FOX's new comedy / science fiction series The Orville (airs Thursdays 9 PM EST) from Seth McFarlane is just under halfway through its thirteen-episode first season and has been getting some good buzz from from the sci fi community. While many did not know what to expect from this show before it started, it has established itself as a Star Trek-like show with a sense of humor and has delivered interesting characters and stories that should have plenty of appeal to genre fans. It has developed a following, but could use more viewers to help bolster its ratings. For those who have not seen it yet, this coming Thursday is the perfect jumping on point as FOX will be repeating the first episode that sets up the premise of the show.
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What Is #TheOrville?
Following is FOX's official logline for the show:
'The Orville' is a one-hour science fiction series set 400 years in the future that follows the adventures of the U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploratory vessel. Its crew, both human and alien, faces the wonders and dangers of outer space, while also dealing with the familiar, often humorous problems of regular people in a workplace…even though some of those people are from other planets, and the workplace is a faster-than-light spaceship.
And if that sounds like The Office meets Star Trek to you, I think that is pretty much what they were going for originally with this show. But, whether intentional or not, it has developed into much more through its sixth episode.
Basically, take an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and add more humor to the scripts and the pretty much describes The Orville. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is a parody of Trek, at least once you get past the first episode. The show has actually delivered some pretty good science fiction stories thus far (much better than the first season of TNG, in fact), it just adds more humor. And the look and feel of the show is so close to TNG, that I'm surprised CBS has not threatened an infringement lawsuit (perhaps claiming the parody angle gives them a loophole).
And one of the most important things The Orville does in the Star Trek tradition is deliver stand-alone stories. No complicated story arcs here with mysteries upon mysteries murking up the episodes. These are close-ended stories that wrap up before the ending credits. That is why jumping on with the pilot (for character introductions) then skipping to the seventh episode is not a problem. That will be just the latest story of the week, and you can catch up with the others in repeat season (or on Hulu).
Who Is Aboard The Orville?
Seth McFarlane (of Family Guy fame) is the creator of the series and he also stars as Captain Ed Mercer. But take note for those of you who can't stand Family Guy (I count myself in those ranks), that the more subtle humor on The Orville is about as far from that animated series as possible.
The ship's first officer Commander Kelly Grayson is played by Adrianne Palicki, and she just happens to be Mercer's ex-wife. That of course seemed like one of those sitcom setups at the beginning show, designed to contrive excuses for humor. But it hasn't quite worked out that way as Palicki and McFarlane have demonstrated a definite onscreen chemistry as characters who care about each other despite their irreconcilable differences, and the ex-spouse verbal sparring has added plenty of good lines.
Peter Macon plays the very Worf-like Lt. Commander Bortus, though his character is gay as are all the members of his male-only race (and one episode has already addressed that in a very interesting way). Mark Jackson plays the Spock/Data stand-in Isaac who shows some potential to develop into a character in his own right in upcoming episodes.
Scott Grimes and J. Lee play the helmsmen / navigator duo, both coming off as slackers who know how to answer the call to action when needed. Halston Sage plays the alien, butt-kicking Chief of Security Lt. Alara Kitan, and while she may draw some comparisons to Tasha Yar, she has managed to put her own unique spin on the tough female character. Penny Johnson Jerald plays Dr. Claire Finn and brings a refreshing new take on the ship's doctor character.
Why You Should Be Watching 'The Orville'
Because it is a good show that is both funny and engaging and finds that right balance between humor and good sci fi story-telling. Because it is a throwback to the best years of the Star Trek franchise, but delivers its own spin that keeps it from being just a retread. Because it is refreshingly positive amidst today's other genre shows that embrace a darker vision and/or have become overly complicated with dense mythology. And because it is much closer to the spirit of Star Trek, particularly TNG and TOS, than that franchises current entry Discovery (though that show has plenty of its own merits).
The Orville may be a bit hard for some to swallow if they like their science fiction deadly serious, which was the approach that TNG and the other Trek spin-off series typically took. And it may seem a bit odd to some because it doesn't have the ongoing, serialized story that has come to be expected from sci fi shows these days. But actually, those are its strengths and are the very reasons that people should be watching the show. Don't take this one too seriously, but know that is does have the chops to deliver a good sci fi tale.
Is 'The Orville' In Ratings Jail?
Not just yet, but it could use some more viewers. The show actually got out to a strong start with two early Fall airings on Sunday nights that had NFL football as a lead-in. Its numbers dropped notably when it moved to its regular Thursday 9 PM EST timeslot, but that had to be expected. Competition is stiff on that night with football on CBS as well as ABC's always popular dramas, and with Gotham fading in its fourth season, it does not offer much of a lead-in from the 8 PM hour. But FOX had to know that The Orville would have challenges on that night, and hopefully they are doing a counter-programming measure similar to what they did years ago with Fringe. They stood by that show when it had mediocre to poor ratings on Thursdays and later Fridays, and maybe they will do the same with McFarlane's show.
But the network will want to know that there is a dedicated audience out there that will follow and support the show. The best way to show support for The Orville if you are not a Nielsen family is to live tweet during the broadcast airings and also continue to promote the show on the social networks throughout the week to help bring it more exposure. Also, watch it online at FOX.com or at Hulu, because you are counted in those views (whereas Nielsen ignores you unless you have their magic monitoring device).
Is The Orville The Next Great Sci Fi Show?
It's hard to make that assessment at this early point in the show's run, but it definitely has promise. It falls right in line with the Star Trek-like shows without being a direct copy, and it is really a breath of fresh air among the current crop of genre shows. The Orville's format also offers it plenty of room to grow and improve across multiple seasons and this one is sure to develop a loyal following.
But if we want it to be more than yet another lamented "Cancelled Too Soon" sci fi entry, we need to give it our support. It is definitely an expensive series to produce and I'm sure FOX would like its numbers to be at least a bit higher. If we get the word out about this show and make sure our support counts, then I think it has a chance of surviving to a second season. We have already seen shows like Timeless kept alive by fan dedication, and The Orville is another that deserves that level of attention. So be sure to watch and support it on the social networks and hopefully we can look forward to future seasons from this show.
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Are you watching The Orville? Chime in with your thoughts on the show in the comments section below.