Last night I went to tune in for the next episode of The Orville. We ended up getting home a little late from a family thing but that was okay because we live in the age of the DVR, right?
I hit play on the episode and found myself staring at the Broncos vs. Cowboys game. Seriously. They delayed the newest episode because of a football game.
Not that this is surprising. We’re talking about Fox here. A network that’s as infamous for preempting its programming for sports as it is for cancelling promising shows before they really have a chance to get off the ground.
Fans had the same frustration with Firefly back in the day. I remember the same frustration with shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy. There were times when it was impossible to tell when your favorite show was going to air because Fox was busy catering to the almighty sports demographic at the expense of fans of their original programming.
It looks like the more things change the more things stay the same. Sure I can watch the episode streaming at Fox’s website, but it’s frustrating that’s even a thing fans should have to deal with on a new show. Especially a new show with a distinct split in the audience where a lot of people are still trying to make up their mind.
I’ve been looking forward to The Orville since I first saw that Seth MacFarlane was doing an homage/spoof of Star Trek. The show is right in my wheelhouse. I’ve been a huge trekkie my entire life and I’ve been a fan of MacFarlane since the first time I saw Family Guy when it first premiered. Combine the two? Well you have something that I’m very much looking forward to!
The previews for The Orville really wanted to build it up as a comedy that had more in common with MacFarlane’s other works than it did with Star Trek. The Internet really seemed to want The Orville to be a rehash of Galaxy Quest, though I thought those comparisons were flawed considering Galaxy Quest’s unique comedy stew had a healthy dose of fandom culture and winking nods at the ridiculousness of the show’s premise in its ingredients rather than being an in-universe straight up parody.
Which is to say that going into this I figured there were going to be a lot of people who were disappointed with The Orville based on their expectations. It looks like the critical reaction has been pretty negative, but then again the critical reaction to anything MacFarlane does tends to be pretty negative. I’ll admit his stuff is something you either like or you hate, but if you fall on the “like” side of that dichotomy then the humor in The Orville is more hit than miss.
The best part, though, is that you don’t even have to be a fan of MacFarlane’s comedy to enjoy The Orville, because at its core the show isn’t a comedy. It isn’t a spoof of Star Trek. No, more than anything it’s a return to the roots that made Star Trek the wonderful thing that it was. It’s an optimistic take on humanity’s future with a more realistic and smartass approach to how the characters interact, and I really enjoyed it.
The first episode, Old Wounds, hits a lot of beats that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a pilot from a science fiction show that debuted after Star Trek: The Next Generation dominated the airwaves and helped to usher in a new golden era of scifi on television. Characters are introduced. Interpersonal relationships are defined. A bit of old conflict is introduced. A new bad guy shows up and there’s a macguffin of the week that moves the plot along.
I don’t think the specifics of Old Wounds are all that necessary to cover though. It would be a perfectly serviceable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the humor infused in the show really adds something to it. Say what you will about TNG and how groundbreaking it was for its time, but it could be a lot more stuffy and buttoned up than its predecessor. In many ways the interactions between the crew on The Orville feel more natural. There’s a workplace banter that I think better reflects how life would proceed on a ship like that, even in the far future, and in many ways it hearkens back to some of the lighter moments of the original Star Trek.
The Orville isn’t the rapid fire comedy that Fox desperately wanted people to think it was based on the advertising. It isn’t a straight up parody of Star Trek that the Internet seemed to so desperately need. What it is, though, is a loving homage to everything that made the best of Star Trek so great. Some might call it a straight up copy, but I really enjoyed seeing a show that got away from the dark and gritty tone that has taken over science fiction in the past decade and even tainted Star Trek to some degree.
The Orville is a return to a bygone era of televised scifi. It’s a show that depicts a bright future where humanity is doing well, and it does it with humor that shows a world that feels a lot more realistic than most of the dour scifi that’s been on the airwaves in the past twenty years.
I can’t wait to see where they go. Old Wounds was promising, and I think this show has the potential to develop into something amazing. Watching it felt like sitting down to watch an episode of TNG when I was a kid, and I welcome a return to a more optimistic take on the genre.
Nods to Trek:
The Orville isn’t a straight up Star Trek spoof, but there were plenty of nods in the episode that I enjoyed.
The door swishes and beeps were all very familiar.
The friendly deadly orc was a nice twist on the holodeck.
The shuttle flight that revealed the Orville was straight out of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, including music cues that were spot on while being just different enough to avoid copyright infringement.
MacFarlane’s speech to his crew was another scene straight out of The Motion Picture.
The musical stingers featuring the ship floating through space when they came back from commercials was a spot on moment from TOS and TNG.
The standoff with the enemy captain at the end bore more than a striking resemblance to the prefix code showdown with Khan in Wrath of Khan.
The shuttle ramming into the shuttle bay at full speed was a fun nod to Sulu doing the same in Final Frontier.
The Orville leaving the dock to a rousing orchestral score was perfect. It brought to mind similar scenes from various Trek shows and movies while also being its own thing, which is really the whole episode in a nutshell.
Asking the weirdly framed alien to move just a little was funny. It brought to mind all those episodes of TNG where Tomalak stood just a little too close to the viewscreen for comfort.
The moment where they start airing their marriage grievances to a confused alien commander who actually engages them on the subject? Hilarious.
The discussion of the parting one-liner at the end was pretty funny too.
If I had to give Old Wounds a letter grade it would probably be a solid B to B+. Not all the jokes hit and it’s clear the show is still finding itself, but the promise of a show that depicts an optimistic future with a dash of realism and humor is enough to have me really excited to see where they go with this! And MacFarlane is the golden boy at Fox, so if anyone has the power to keep an ambitious show like this going long enough to find its feet, something that even TNG didn’t do until towards the end of season 2 or the beginning of season 3 mind you, he’s the guy.