In a calendar year when we are slated to get a brand-new ‘Star Trek’ TV series, is it possible that another show has come along that just might out-Trek the new ‘Trek?’ The initial spate of advance reviews have not been overly kind to Fox’s newcomer ‘The Orville’ … so how did we here at ScienceFiction.com think the show’s premiere went? Read on to find out!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘The Orville’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Long-time viewers and fans of ‘Star Trek’ will find much here that is familiar territory – and with good reason (more on this in the “Observations” section below). Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is a dutiful member of the Planetary Union, an extremely United Federation of Planets-esque group that focuses on space exploration (peaceful exploration, one would imagine, but it’s never specifically stated…). Mercer’s ship finally comes in, in a most literal sense: at long last, he’s given command of his own vessel, the USS Orville, a “mid-level exploratory ship.” The impression is definitely given from Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber), Mercer’s superior officer who informs him about the assignment, that this ship is nothing special, just one of the 3,000-ish ships currently on the PU’s (heh heh) roster. The Enterprise she may not be – likely more akin to the USS Reliant from ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,’ for my Trekkies out there – but no matter, Mercer is simply jazzed to have a ship to call his own.
He recruits his mostly-crass Union buddy, Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), to be his helmsman, and off they go into orbit to find the Orville in dock. Another Trek-familiar moment here of Mercer’s shuttle navigating the spacedock ins and outs before finally giving him (and us) the slow around-the-ship run so we all can get a good look at her. Make no mistake: the Orville is a cool-looking ship, even if she is designed more to be a freighter style vessel than a sleek cruiser or a heavy fighter. Also in typical ‘Star Trek’ style, we get a quick introduction to the “senior staff,” who I’m sure we’ll be learning more about in future episodes, before it’s off to a surprise planetary conflict with the token bad-guy race. Oh, and we learn that Mercer’s ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki), whom we briefly met in the episode’s opening scene as she was cheating on him, is now his XO. Neat!
- The vibe of the show might best be described as “Star Trek if it was inhabited by the average American population of today.” Most of the members of the Orville crew that we meet are generally normal people, with more than a few moments of being crude, crass, and ADHD in their attention spans. This gives the first episode a feel that most viewers likely aren’t going to quite be prepared for: we’re used to our sci-fi in one of two ways: idyllic and intelligent, or dystopian and explosion-y. ‘The Orville’ just seems like an extrapolation of our current society; things in general are okay but not great, and people are just trying to get through their days as best they can, having some good moments and some bad ones all mixed in.
- The visuals for a network semi-comedy style show are, pleasantly, top-notch. Outer-space shots look great, and the USS Orville herself has a unique look about her that, thankfully, wasn’t parroted directly from any ‘Star Trek’ vessel I immediately recognize.
- Other things the show lovingly “cribs” from ‘Star Trek’ include the Orville getting beat up in a space battle (I half expected the crew to have to return to Spacedock and be gifted with a whole new ship, the “Orville-A,” haha); bad guys, the Krill (gosh, their name is even spelled close to Klingons), who appear to be highly-trained warriors but can’t shoot anything worth a damn; the Orville bridge setup and color-coded division uniforms; and probably even more I missed.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Look, let’s not mince words here: ‘The Orville’ rides the extremely fine line of “homage” and “straight-up rip-off (with potty humor)” – but admittedly, this has been from Day One what series creator MacFarlane said he was going for. I, for one, have decided to be cautiously optimistic about where this show could go moving forward. After all, one pilot episode of a sci-fi series is not exactly a fair litmus test of a series’ potential, now is it? *cough-Encounter-at-Farpoint-cough*
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Seth MacFarlane as Ed Mercer
Adrianne Palicki as Kelly Grayson
Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn
Scott Grimes as Gordon Malloy
Peter Macon as Lt. Commander Bortus
Halston Sage as Alara Kitan
J. Lee as John LaMarr
Mark Jackson as Isaac
‘The Orville’ airs Sunday nights on Fox.