This day and age it is not hard to find a science fiction tv series airing on some channel or streaming on some service. It seems that sci-fi has become popular once again and, in this blogger’s humble opinion, that is a good thing. Much of Science Fiction these days fall under the realm of speculative fiction (speculating on the future itself) and series like Black Mirror have proven that this is a genre that most viewers enjoy. The sad reality is that these are mostly done as warnings or parables that offer a grim view of what is to come. Gone are the positive advancements in both society and technology, gone is the hope of a better tomorrow.
When it was announced that Star Trek was coming back, I was excited simply because this meant that we would get a continuance of the optimistic future where mankind is striving to better themselves. Unfortunately the series we were presented was one that was depicting a war with a very pessimistic view of the future. Gone was the hope that Gene Roddenberry established in the fifty year old franchise, but then, like knights charging in with coconut steeds, along came The Orville.
Please note, I will be very careful to not give away too much of the overall series. There will be minor spoilers but there should be nothing that would hinder your appreciation for the show. If anything, consider this article as a primer.
The Orville is a sci-fi comedy series created by Seth MacFarlane, who happens to be a huge Star Trek Fan himself. The series follows an ensemble cast who are exploring the cosmos in a starship with the mission to explore the unknown. Sound familiar? The catch? It isnt completly serious. While the series does tackle much of the socio-political commentary like it’s inspirations did, The Orville does it with MacFarlane’s unique humor and love of the absurd.
Now, your first thought is, of course, ‘why would I want to watch Family Guy in Space?’ And that is a very fair question. MacFarlane’s brand of humor is fairly crass and irreverent but his love of the genre seems to temper that a bit. Don’t worry, it is indeed a lighter and more humorous affair but they pull back when it matters. Unlike its inspiration, this series covers the more casual and personal nature of humanity. That being said, by allowing for a more humorous setting, this series also manages to give a sincerity that would otherwise be lacking in a straight science fiction series.
The story of the show is one of exploration. Each episode takes the crew to new and uncharted territories, pitting them against the unknown. How they handle these threats are as unique as the crew themselves and really adds a fun element to the show.
There is little in the vein of an ongoing story line but there are several minor character arcs that continue through the episodes. Some of those include, obviously, Ed and Kelly’s previous relationship, Ed’s constant fear of inadequacy as Captain (and his former love life), Lt Yaphit’s (a blob voiced by Norm Macdonald) romantic pursuit of Doctor Finn and various others.
Somehow each side stories are unique and they manage to keep from getting overbearing, which is really quite a feat for a fledgling show like this. It really feels like a show about a crew and not just about a single character and their interactions with the crew, something other sci fi shows these days tend to lack.
Overall, while it is helpful to start at the beginning, you could easily pick up any episode and enjoy it as a self contained story. This approach is pretty standard fare for anyone familiar with the Star Trek approach to storytelling but works well with a series like this.
In this series, immediately from the pilot, viewers get to know all of the senior officers aboard The Orville. Each one unique and would fit nicely on most any Star Trek series thus far. Let’s start with the Captain.
Captain Ed Mercer (played by MacFarlane himself) is a young officer who lost his drive when he caught his wife ‘banging a Retepsian’ (a Blue Alien). Since then he has been passed over for command until The Union (this series version of the Federation) needs a Captain as they have ‘run out’ of candidates. He is unsure of himself yet eager for the command until he discovers who his First Officer is.
Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki): Grayson is Mercer’s ex-wife (mentioned above) and has requested to serve aboard The Orville as the Captain’s Executive Officer. Her reasoning behind this is that she wants to make amends with him and this was the only way he would get his first command. You see, she begged command to trust her judgement on him and, it is because of her, that Ed got this assignment. It is clear they both still care for one another but it’s not something that either want to get in their way.
Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes): Gordon is one of Ed Mercer’s best friends and, while a trouble maker, he also happens to be the best pilot that Mercer knows. The Orville needs a pilot so of course he asks his buddy. Gordon is your typical ‘bro’ but is indeed a skilled, if not unconventional, pilot.
Doctor Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald): Claire is the Chief Doctor aboard The Orville and gave up a larger ship assignment to be ‘where she is needed’. She is an extremely intelligent person and is ready to handle this ragtag crew. She also happens to be a single mother of two boys who make an appearance later in the series. One cool note is that the actress, Penny Johnson Jerald, is a Star Trek Alum herself having played Cassidy Yates on Star Trek DS9.
Lt Commander Bortis (Peter Macon): Every comedy series needs a straight man and Bortis is that man. He comes from a single gender race that are both large and intimidating yet care for one another deeply. Much like his inspiration, he is mostly humorless and has trouble with typical human concepts. It makes for some great bits. He also lives with his partner Klyden (played by Chad Coleman) and their relationship is a delight of its own.
Lt Alara Kitan (Halston Sage): Alara is the Chief of Security and a Xelayan. She has exceptional strength and agility due to her home planet having significantly more gravity than most planets. This and the fact that, although young, she is a dedicated and eager officer makes her an extremely valuable part of the Senior Staff. She has some great character growth in this series and I look forward to more of her development.
Lt John LaMarr (J. Lee): John LaMarr is the Navigator aboard The Orville and has been on board for a while. He is a relaxed and casual officer who’s only concern is that things are comfortable. His first request of the new captain? ‘Our last Captain let us have soda on the bridge while were working, and I wanted to be sure that was still okay? ‘ Along the course of the show we get to see some great development for LaMarr as well. There is also clearly a friendship budding between LaMarr and Malloy, it also doesn’t hurt that they are roommates.
Finally we come to Isaac (played by Mark Jackson): Isaac is an android who comes from a race of beings who view all biological life as inferior. He is the representative of his planet selected to represent his people in a Union effort to initiate relations between the two species. He is using the experience to learn more about humans and their customs. More Kryten than Data, he makes for a great foil for some of the jokes played by his fellow crewmates and seems to genuinely want to learn about his fellow crewmates.
The Orville is a Mid-Level Exploratory Vessel in the Planetary Union with a small armament of weapons and fitted with a Quantum Drive Engine. Thus far we haven’t learned much about the ship other than it does have families on board and functions much like the traditional starships we have come to know and love.
What space based science fiction series doesn’t have some kind of Alien presence? Whether it be actual new species, androids or even the suggestion of alien beings, they are typically there and that is part of the fun. In this series there are an abundance of beings from other planets not only traveling in space but also among the crew themselves. From talking green slimes to many other strange and wonderful creatures, the crew of the Orville is a melting pot of species interaction. In fact, it has more xeno-diversity than most of the crew complements on Star Trek and that is saying a lot!
But what about Villains, give me some great villains! Oh, they have some of those too.
The Krill, their biggest galactic threat in this series so far. The Krill are the semi-continual threat in the series and are The Orville’s answer to the Klingons from Star Trek. They are a warlike race who have very deep convictions and, when we see just what it is they believe, they become that more monstrous. In many ways they are an analogy for extremist hate groups in our society today and I feel that they will be further explored in seasons to come.
Then there are the Calivon. The Calivon are red skinned aliens who look a lot like the traditional Martians of old. They are from a species that veiw all other species with lower technology as inferior and feel that they are and will mostly ignore those that are below them. Unless they want to study you that is. You see, they tend to capture lesser species and put them in zoos for their people to see. Since these captured species are below them, they figure they can treat them as we have treated animals for a millenia. The Planetary Union strictly forbids contact with this species due to this threat.
There are many others alien races throughout the series and part of the fun is discovering them all for yourself, so we will stop there.
I am not going to go into detail of each episode of the series as all that will do is present you with potential spoilers and make this article far too long. You can read some of my episodic reviews here if you really want to know. Although not necessary, I do recommend watching from the first episode and working your way through the instalments in order. This will give you a chance to see the character development overall and get to know the characters better as things progress. The series is not without it’s faults and missteps but then again most first seasons require some time for growth and development.
Although most see this as a Star Trek parody, I have found the series to be Seth MacFarlane’s unconventional love letter to the Star Trek Universe. It is clearly made by a man who misses the excitement that was Star Trek the Next Generation and truly wished to play in that universe himself. That being said, he does have a unique sense of humor and any series that doesn’t have that comic flair wouldn’t be his series.
I love it and find myself looking forward to each new episode over the current Trek series. For me, The Orville bring back the Optimistic Future that Gene Roddenberry first imagined as opposed to the Realistic Future it has become. I look forward to the next season of The Orville.
Thanks for reading the review today, If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Wednesday and also a complete review of Star Trek Discovery. Be sure to check out our contributor Darkmovienight with the New Movie Reviews every Sunday.
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Late To The Game 12/9/2017