In the 25th century, Earth has joined the Planetary Union, a governing body with a fleet of ships used for exploration and defense (sound familiar?). In this century, Seth MacFarlane partnered with producer Brannon Braga to create a show centered around one of those ships: The Orville. MacFarlane’s fame comes from his previous work on television (Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show) and film (the Ted series). If you’ve watched any amount of sci-fi TV, you’ve probably seen Braga’s name in the credits of several Star Trek series and movies as a producer. MacFarlane brings the funny, Braga brings the sci-fi, in other words.
Creator Seth MacFarlane stars as the Captain Ed Mercer, captain of the USS Orville. He could have gotten a command already, but he let his personal problems get in the way of his career and credibility. You can tell while watching, MacFarlane must be having a blast, commanding a ship and shooting laser pistols. Part of the show’s success will depend on this: Can you buy MacFarlane as a ship’s captain? The guy runs three or four TV shows at the same time, so I’ll give him a chance.
Adrianne Palicki stars as Kelly Grayson, Mercer’s cheating ex-wife. The entire series opens with a scene where Mercer catches her in bed with an alien that expels blue slime from his body (Roger?). When a spot opens up on Mercer’s ship for Executive Officer (XO), she volunteers.
Scott Grimes plays Gordon Malloy, a longtime friend and ally of Mercer’s. The part suits Grimes since he’s been playing Steve Smith on American Dad for the last 13 seasons. Malloy helms the ship, but only after Mercer gets him returned to active duty following some hot-dogging gone wrong.
Penny Johnson Jerald plays Dr. Claire Finn. She portrays a level of maturity in the Orville’s crew and has hinted she will act as mentor or adviser to Mercer. Jerald has many TV credits on her resume, including 4 years on Deep Space Nine.
Halston Sage plays Chief Security Officer Alara Kitan. In the series opener we learn that she is both very serious and very strong. Born on a planet with super heavy gravity, when she’s in normal gravity, she can accomplish pretty spectacular physical feats. Remember in Star Trek TNG how, although Worf was a Klingon and reputed as a tough guy, he sure got whipped a lot in fights? Right off the bat, Alara does the whipping.
J. Lee plays Lt. John Lamarr, a man of few words and ship’s navigator. Lamarr reveals little about himself in the opener except for a possible addiction to soda (or at least drinking it on the bridge). Lee has collaborated on several MacFarlane shows both behind the scenes and as voice talent.
Mark Jackson plays Isaac, the alien-robot guy from the planet Kaylon. Little gets explained about Isaac other than his condescending demeanor. He sure sounds a lot like Brent Spiner, but apparently Jackson just has a heck of Lt. Commander Data impression.
Peter Macon plays Lt. Commander Bortus, a Moclan and the ship’s third in command. He’s a no-nonsense member of a single-sex race of aliens, but he still lets Malloy “hug the donkey”.
The Orville relies heavily on an aesthetic and level of suspension of disbelief pioneered by the various Star Trek series. The show’s success depends partly on MacFarlane, but primarily on finding an audience that wants a sci-fi dramedy on their DVR. This audience hasn’t really existed before, at least on American TV. While sci-fi shows have had funny elements (see Firefly), they usually lean heavier on the action or setting than it looks like The Orville wants to. Plus, Firefly was canceled (by FOX) before the first season finished.
What about the sci-fi?
Like I mentioned, this show owes a lot to Star Trek. Imagine that TV sci-fi exists on a spectrum between the original Star Trek (soft) and The Expanse (hard). The Orville probably defines a new endpoint for the “soft” side of the spectrum. The science makes little sense. The physics of the spacecraft doesn’t look realistic (although the visual effects are perfectly good). Soft sci-fi haters won’t find anything to change their minds here. If you don’t care about details like that, then never mind about it. It’s fine.
Should You watch?
Do you like Seth MacFarlane? Definitely watch. Do you hate Seth MacFarlane? You might give it a chance anyway. Although the premiere boasts a couple immature jokes, they don’t define the show in the same way as Family Guy. Don’t get me wrong. This IS a Seth MacFarlane show, so every episode will have jokes and gags – but I think you’ll probably notice a sense of restraint not present in his other shows. The dynamic between Adrianne Palicki and MacFarlane shows some spark when they deal with each other, but I’m not sure about their chemistry as past lovers. I’m open to reforming my opinion later though. If you have time to watch, give it a try. Since it’s unlike anything else out there, you may find something to love about this unique new show.