The Orville: Pilot

‘The Orville’ Pilot Recap: “There Is No Pizza Party”

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.


  1. Timcharger

    Josh: “an experimental device that can great a “time bubble” which will accelerate the passage of time for anything inside it.”

    …an experimental device that can ?CREATE? a “time bubble” which will accelerate the passage of time for anything inside it…

  2. EM

    Garsh, that’s harsh! But I agree that the pilot wasn’t very promising.

    I think the humor is supposed to mostly stem from (A) the banter Josh mentioned and (B) the notion that the characters (at least, most of the human characters) are banal underachievers in the paragon-of-virtue department, contrary to their usual Star Trek counterparts*. But I don’t find those underachieving personalities intrinsically funny, and I don’t think making them fish out of genre (so to speak) makes them funny. The result isn’t so much Star Trek parodied as Star Trek poorly done. (I did like what little I saw of Dr. Finn and the alien regulars; the aliens in particular seem as though they would easily transition into “serious” science fiction.)

    I might tune in again, but I don’t expect much. Frankly, I think I’d rather rewatch the 1970s SF spoof series Quark. It wasn’t a great show, but it put forth more effort and, I think, heart. And since it ran only some eight half-hour episodes, I’d know it would be over soon!

    *Naturally I can’t help thinking of the time on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that Orville star Penny Johnson Jerald turned the phrase “paragon of virtue” into “parody of virtue”!

  3. photogdave

    I had no idea this show was even a thing and just happened to catch it last night. For the most part I agree with the review; it’s like Seth thought this would be a great idea and then got bored with it before they even went into production.
    However, I did get a couple of chuckles, mostly from the interplay between Scott Grimes and the other characters. The FX are either intentionally bad or the show is really low budget. The Orville looks like a set of dentures from the back.
    This show doesn’t go anywhere that Galaxy Quest didn’t boldly go before but with some re-tooling, better writing and better FX it might be worth watching.

  4. Armand

    McFarlane actually came out and said he thought Fox was billing it too much as a Comedy that it wasn’t. AS for a bland McFarlane in the same interview also said that the point is to have a s how that is more hopeful and bright and colorful so hence TNG Being that I haven’t seen it yet I can’t give you a real good idea what I think, but if Fox has it on their site for stream then i’d be more than happy to chime in.

    • Armand

      So after watching the show, I have to say it’s fine I enjoyed it and I did laugh out loud a couple times with the banter. I guess we’re not getting out at five…. Complaining about the XO and then the alien says don’t make eye contact. It’s subtle humor, more overt than TNG (unless you want to count that data laughing scene) but more subtle that the aforementioned galaxy quest. From my view the production of the show is right in line with what I would expect from Fox nothing too flashy but still modern. This might be what you would call a A-/B+ rated Sci-Fi. I’ve never like McFarlane’s other stuff so this has made me take a new look I’m glad this was made. Now it will be interesting to see if the stark contrast of Discovery can pull me in.

  5. Lord Bowler

    I’m a big fan of Star Trek and any other ship/space-based drama.

    That said, this show was “meh”. It was funny in parts, but not funny enough for a comedy. It also didn’t fit into the drama category. Everything about the show is predictable…

    I doubt it will last long. There was a Galaxy Quest TV Show in the works, and I thought this was that project, but that project appears to have died. This appears to have stolen that idea and gotten onto TV first, thereby killing the presumably better version of a Star Trek parody show.

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