“The Orville” was a passion project for Seth Macfarlane, who wrote the original screenplay for the show before pitching it to Fox. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox Television)
Seth MacFarlane is a very hit or miss comedian. In all of his works, whether it be “Family Guy,” “American Dad” or “Ted,” there are always a few jokes that work really well, and then there are jokes that just completely fall flat. “The Orville” is a little like this. The first half, which is the show’s set up, falls flat while the second half actually works to a surprising degree.
Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is finally given what he has always wanted: his own command of a ship. As he takes the ship for its maiden mission, however, Mercer’s euphoria is disrupted when it turns out his ex-wife, whom he divorced after walking in on her having an affair, is appointed as his first officer.
The role of a pilot episode is to establish the show: who the characters are, what the setting is and what kind of tone to expect from the show. Each of these jobs gets accomplished, though they are accomplished weakly. The cast is comprised of eight prominent characters, which is too many to focus on in 45 minutes, but they are given a few traits and a couple of chances to make jokes in order for the audience to differentiate them.
The setting is obviously in a “Star Trek”-esque future, but not much about the universe is explained. The tone is always comedic, but the first half has its comedy spaced out while the second half is packed with jokes and funny moments.
The humor in the show does display some of MacFarlane’s more problematic habits when it comes to writing his humor: mainly having a joke with an obvious punchline or just having characters say or do something random with no actual joke worked in. What is refreshing is the lack of pop cultural references, especially since the show is modeled after “Star Trek.” The few times there are pop cultural references, it is actually spoofing the material as opposed to just repeating it.
Even with the usual problems of MacFarlane’s work present throughout, there still manage to be some fairly funny moments sprinkled throughout. In fact, the closest it ever feels to just throwing in a reference for the sake of a reference is the inclusion of Penny Johnson Jerald, who played a recurring character on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” as the ship’s doctor.
The characters on the show have potential to be good. In their brief moments of interaction, the two helmsmen (Scott Grimes and J. Lee) work off each other well, and the entire cast has good chemistry with one another. More development is needed for each member of the cast, but what was provided was sufficient enough to build off from.
In terms of being a spoof of “Star Trek,” it has a lot going for it. There are some creative ship and creature designs, the cast is diverse and the story actually felt like it could have been an episode for one of the television series. Throw in some more of the spoofing jokes of “Star Trek” elements that were briefly showcased in the pilot, and “The Orville” has a strong chance of being a pretty entertaining and funny television program.
While not great on an introductory or even a storytelling based level due to what feels like time restraints, the real success of “The Orville” pilot was its ability to emanate a great deal of potential from such an iffy inception.
Final Grade: C+