Star Trek is back...with The Orville
Let me get this out there....I am not a fan of Seth MacFarlane.
Despite numerous people over the years, telling me to watch Family Guy, I’ve never been able to sit through one episode of the show, even with Patrick Stewart doing voice work. I’m aware MacFarlane makes movies, Ted (the teddy bear movie) and that western with Charlize Theron I’ve never been motivated enough to watch. I knew he hosted the Oscars but that particular award show lost all relevance to me after Cate Blanchett lost to Gwyneth flippin’ Paltrow but other than that, MacFarlane was never on my radar.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the guy, I’m aware there’s probably a Seth MacFarlane bandwagon I missed getting on, just like I missed the one for Jerry Seinfeld, I’m just rather indifferent to him.
So when I heard the guy was a big Star Trek fan who was producing a Trek-like television show, my curiosity was piqued. After all, the world is now categorised into two camps; people who love Trek and people who don’t. That he’d occupy part of the group I subscribed to isn’t that big a deal. Remember, in the words of Eddie Murphy, HALF is a big number.
Then I saw the trailer for The Orville.
The homage to Star Trek was obvious but the production levels were good and the presence of Adrianne Palicki guaranteed I’d be giving this a watch. She’s nine colours of awesome. Not to mention the alien Bortus is practically channelling Michael Dorn’s performance as Worf and Penny Johnson, known mostly these days as the captain in Castle, once played Cassidy Yates, wife of Benjamin Sisko on Deep Space Nine. Still, I didn’t expect Galaxy Quest, not in the slightest. Mostly because if there’s no Alan Rickman or Sam Rockwell, it can’t possibly compare. Rudimentary lathe... that line still kills me.
When I did watch the pilot I was surprised. Not because it was a well-scripted, funny show. Uh no, sorry it’s not there yet. It needs a lot more work to get to that point, because right now as it stands, it’s about as close as being good as the Gamma Quadrant is to the Federation. No, I was surprised because it was so like the Trek I missed since Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005.
While I love the new J.J. Abrams films (Chris Pine and Karl Urban…enough said), the truth is Trek is at its best when it’s capsuled in the episodic format of television. To grab modern audiences and compete for box office dollars against the likes the latest Marvel/DC mash up, the movies have been forced to sacrifice character development and storylines for stunt casting and big special effects. The last film, Star Trek Beyond, which attempted to give Trek fans a little taste of the former, performed poorly at the box office and now the possibility of a fourth outing seems remote.
The world in which The Orville inhabits is clearly modelled on the television shows of the 90s but by no means is it a blatant rip off. There’s no doubt MacFarlane loves the Star Trek we remember because it shows in every frame. Added to this homage, is the strong sense of wonder and optimism that made the original Trek so charming. While it’s hard to judge the chemistry of the cast at this point, I’m hoping MacFarlane follows Trek tradition and gives this eclectic group the opportunity to shine in character-centric episodes.
What really harms this show however, is the humour. While Star Trek was at its best when it applied some irreverence to its usually straight-laced dramatics, MacFarlane is not doing The Orville any favours by subjecting it to his usual brand of low brow comedy...penis jokes, really? While I realise he’s trying not to make the mistake of letting the show take itself too seriously, he needs to up his game if he wants to use humour to good effect. What worked in Family Guy is not going to work here.
I recommend he watch some of the Darin Morgan episodes of The X-Files (Jose Chung’s from Outer Space, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and War of the Coprophages to name a few) to see how a show can make fun of itself while at the same time delivering some of the finest hours of television ever. Better yet, if MacFarlane wants to drop the humour altogether, he has the components of a great Star Trek show that isn’t actually a Star Trek show.
In any case, I’m going to be tuning into The Orville, going so far as to say I might actually be looking forward to it more than Star Trek: Discovery which appears to be playing to the fans of NuTrek instead of the whole fanbase. Time will tell which is closer to the spirit of the Star Trek.
Now if we could only get Patrick Stewart to guest star....