Hello everyone! I’m Sage Ashford, and welcome aboard to the 5 Point Discussions series for the adventures of The Orville! Seth MacFarlane’s latest series, it feels like something of a passion project to him, as he’s the series creator, writer of several episodes of the first season, and playing the lead role! The series itself is a light-hearted take on the space opera genre, very obviously inspired by Star Trek. Since I’m a sucker for space opera, I offered to cover this new series for Comicon! I hope you enjoy it. If you do or you don’t, be sure to let me know about it on Twitter–I’m @SageShinigami. And if you do enjoy, please be sure to like and RT this article and any others you see on Comicon, it really helps out. With all that said, let’s blast off!
1. For better or worse, I’m not about to call The Orville “woke”, but starting the episode off, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the diverse casting choices. Get mad if you want about the lead being “another white guy”, but in a “lead” cast of eight members (one of whom is a robot), The Orville has still managed to cast people of color and have nearly complete parity between sexes. This is something Gene Roddenberry seemed to understand from the very beginning when he made Star Trek: TOS: You can’t do a show about a supposed utopian future, include all sorts of alien races, and then wind up with a “colorblind” cast that’s devoid of people of different ethnicities or women, so it’s good that the series didn’t trip up out the gate with this.
Having said that, they didn’t really linger much on it either, which I like. Main character Ed Mercer, Captain of the The Orville, has a bit of time to meet the senior officers on his ship but very little of it involves being amazed about anyone’s color or having women involved. That’s always immersion-breaking to me–Mercer talks about how the navigator (played by J. Lee) is obsessed with drinking soda or how the security officer (Halston Sage) is a young woman who got promoted rapidly because she’s from a race that doesn’t usually join the force. Don’t waste my time being amazed that there are black people and women in the 25th century, that’s just depressing.
2. You really can tell the difference between a television budget for a show from one of the big four and one for smaller channels like The CW. The Orville’s special effects wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 2000’s era film–from the way day-to-day life involves flying vehicles, to the grandiose first departure of the Orville from its mother ship, and even the space battle we get at the climax of the episode. It all looks quite stunning; there’s no sense that they had to cut corners or that they want to weasel out of making the future look cool because they can’t afford it.
Even the first episode is centered around some great sci-fi tech: the team has to secure a device that creates a quantum field capable of rapidly advancing time, but run into trouble when the Krill, a hostile alien force, move in on the base in order to steal it for themselves. Exploring potential future inventions and their ramifications is a big part of any space opera series, and so far Orville has that down.
3. It’s not really a bold choice given I’m pretty sure Seth just took the nearest Star Trek handbook, changed as much as he could to avoid getting sued, and just ran with what was left to create this, but I appreciate the presence of a large number of alien races. The main cast alone has Lt. Commander Bortus, from the Klingon-esque Moclan, a race of single-sexed individuals, security officer Alara of the Xeleyans, and a robot from a planet of extremely racist robots. And that’s before you get to the Krill, a hostile alien force that’s the main subject of this episode’s conflict.
There have been space opera series before that try to get away with having only humans exploring the final frontier, and it always rings false. For one, it’s creatively lazy to just go with “humans are the main source of conflict” hundreds or thousands of years into the future. But more importantly, it just seems statistically unlikely that if there are other planets capable of supporting life outside our Solar System, that life doesn’t exist on many of them. Good on the writers for going full hog, so to speak.
4. The one thing I’m not quite sure about as a background storyline is the whole relationship between MacFarlane’s character Ed, and his first officer, Kelly Grayson (played by Adrianne Palicki). It’s simultaneously the most original thing the series is doing (since relationship-y drama stuff is rare) and at the same time the most well-worn (since you can find it everywhere else). At the start of the episode, Ed walks in on his wife Kelly sleeping with a strange, blue alien. This has a spiral effect on his life, as he divorces her and goes from being a sure-fire captain of a heavy vessel to barely keeping his job until he gets the opportunity to pilot the Orville, with one caveat: he needs a first mate.
Of course, it had to be Kelly who takes the job, out of a desire to apologize for cheating. I have to say, given the character was relying on the “you work too much” excuse for ruining her marriage, I was all ready to dislike her. But Palicki plays the role so affably–she’s confident, she’s smart, and she plays off of Ed perfectly whether it’s in the action scenes or the comedy. By the end, even Ed realizes she’s the best possible first mate he could have, and invites her to stay rather than allow someone else to take her place. As a long-time fan of both How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs, I’m long past tired of “will they/won’t they” drama, but so long as the story stays largely focused on science-fiction, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
5. Ultimately, the best thing about this series is that it provides the kind of hopeful science-fiction that television has become void of in the past couple decades. It comes off in trailers as a spoof, but that’s only because its just so blindingly honest. The kind of honesty that hasn’t been seen since the late 90’s when everyone started trying to be “ironic”. There are bits that are played for laughs, but that’s okay. Life isn’t just one thing–some days are really intense and scary, and then once you survive those days you laugh about it later.
I’ve seen the critics response to this series and I couldn’t be more baffled. They question the point of The Orville’s existence, but in a world of far too many cop shows and a surprising resurgence of reality television, I find this to be the last show we should look at and wonder “why”? There aren’t already enough gritty crime dramas? Haven’t we seen enough dystopian sci-fi? While I wouldn’t call The Orville “gripping”, it’s certainly enjoyable, and I look forward to watching this for the next twelve weeks.