Seth MacFarlane’s new live-action sci-fi series ‘The Orville’ gets just about everything right to look and even sound like a spot-on ‘Star Trek’ spoof. Inexplicably, the creator of ‘Family Guy’ then completely forgot to add in the spoof part. I thought this was supposed to be a comedy?
MacFarlane himself stars as Ed Mercer, a washed-up captain in the Planetary Union some 400 years in the future from now. Still recovering from personal problems, he’s offered a last chance at redemption with command of a mid-level exploratory vessel called the U.S.S. Orville – mainly because the Union has thousands of ships to man and not enough captains for all of them. Ed gets to bring along his best bud Gordon (Scott Grimes), who’s an ace pilot but also a wiseass alcoholic, to be his helmsman, but the rest of the ship’s crew assignments are out of his hands. For the most part, that’s not a problem. Although the other members of his command crew (including a humorless alien named Bortus, a robot named Isaac, and a disapproving doctor played by Penny Johnson Jerald) may be a little eccentric, he can work with them. Things get complicated, however, when Ed’s new Executive Officer turns out to be none other than his ex-wife, Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), the woman who cheated on him and sent him into a nervous breakdown just one year earlier.
For its first mission, the Orville is sent on a routine supply run to a science station. When they get there, Ed learns that the station doesn’t actually need the supplies at all. The chief scientist (Brian George from ‘The Expanse’) explains that his team has recently completed an experimental device that can create a “time bubble” which will accelerate the passage of time for anything inside it. Over 100 years of aging can be compressed into mere seconds. The scientist fears that an alien race called the Krill will try to steal this device to use as a weapon, so he called a Union ship hoping for protection, but didn’t want to announce the true purpose of the call over an open channel.
Sure enough, the Krill arrive quickly. One of the other scientists is a double-agent working with them. Their attempt to steal the device leads to a laser shoot-out on the ground and a starship battle in space, culminating in a dicey shuttlecraft docking back on the Orville. The Krill disable the Orville’s engines and demand that the device be turned over to them. Kelly comes up with the clever idea of sending it over with a redwood seed mounted on top. As soon as it’s on board the Krill ship, the device ages the tree 100 years, which grows and smashes through the alien ship’s hull, tearing it to pieces.
Much rejoicing is had, and Ed decides that Kelly can stay as his XO. In the final scene, we learn that Kelly secretly petitioned a Union admiral (Victor Garber) on Ed’s behalf to get him the command, because of course she’s still in love with him.
Episode Verdict / Grade: D
I am utterly baffled by this show. On the surface, it’s pretty clear that MacFarlane’s intention was to make an ongoing TV version of ‘Galaxy Quest‘. All of the show’s production details are note-perfect to satirize ‘Star Trek’ (specifically, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’) – from the color-coded uniforms to the bumpy-headed alien makeup and the elaborate but slightly cheap VFX. The musical score sounds unmistakably Trekian. MacFarlane even signed-up Brannon Braga as a producer to ensure authenticity. Jon Favreau directed the pilot episode to give it some feature film gloss, and the cast all seem game to have some fun. Every single thing about the series – except for the writing – is set up as a nearly ideal ‘Star Trek’ parody.
But the show isn’t funny. Like, not even a little bit funny. In fact, it doesn’t even seem like it’s supposed to be funny. It’s not just that the jokes don’t land; the show has hardly anything that could even be classified as a joke. Ed and Kelly bicker a little at inopportune moments in a desperate attempt to set up a ‘Moonlighting’ dynamic, but their chemistry is off and they’re not believable as a couple. (Palicki is almost as far out of MacFarlane’s league as Charlize Theron was in ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’.) On maybe a half dozen occasions, characters banter in ways that are perhaps intended to sound witty, but entirely fall flat. Other than that, the show is a comedic dead zone. Nothing about the plot or the situations is remotely amusing. I can’t even fathom how they were intended to be.
As a comedy, ‘The Orville’ dies on the screen. I didn’t laugh even once during the entire premiere episode. If it’s supposed to be a straight sci-fi drama, it’s far too bland and generic, and frankly boring, for that. I can’t figure out what the purpose of this show is. Why does it exist at all? I see no need for it.
Just go watch ‘Galaxy Quest’ again. That movie is funny as hell and holds up great.