So far I’ve seen the first three episodes of Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi comedy series on FOX, The Orville. And while I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far, I’m stuck trying to figure out what it’s trying to be. I was braced for a dick-jokey, Spaceballsy, irreverent sort of eye-rolling parody show, but instead I got sideswiped by a well-produced, thoughtful, homage to the Trek universe which is sprinkled with hit-or-miss jokes and direct nods to 21st century pop culture.
So if it looks like a Trek, walks like a Trek, and quacks like a Trek, then it must be a Trek, right? Well, you’d think so, but it also snarks unlike a Trek, and I’m not yet sure if that helps or hurts its case. It seems to me that The Orville keeps forgetting it’s a comedy. It so regularly and effortlessly slips into genuine Trek-ish character development and morality play that when a joke pops up it’s actually a bit jarring. Not that the jokes are unwelcome it’s just that they come so infrequently, and when they do come, it’s a quality crap-shoot. You might get a clever, insightful gag about Kermit the Frog being a great leader, or the use of Rankin/Bass’ Rudolph as an allegory for celebrating our differences — or you might get an obscene phallus-esque protrusion jutting out of Norm MacDonald’s unnecessary blob-character in a boorish attempt to court the chief medical officer. The former feels like a warm, welcome addition to the Trek story structure, while the latter makes me embarrassed for having been invested in the characters just moments before.
It’s also worth mentioning there’s more to the formula deviation than just jokes; there’s a thin layer of “how real people talk” spread across the entire production which would have felt out of place in TNG, but makes all of Orville’s characters more believable. Case in point is the first interaction between the new navigator & helmsman. The discussion begins with a cordial sort of, “I wanted to introduce myself since we’ll be working together,” and the helmsman replies with, “Oh, you wanted to find out if I’m a jerk!” Those sorts of interactions (coupled with the captain’s constant needling of his ex-wife/XO) which resonate for me. It strips away the prim & proper Victorian behavior model of TNG and replaces it with more human (and thus “realer”) interactions & dialog.