Having slogged through two long reviews/rants about the “official” Star Trek show currently airing (not on TV though), I can now reward myself by talking about the REAL spiritual successor to the Star Trek I grew up on and have loved for pretty much my whole life, The Orville.
A lot has been said already about this show, and I don’t intend on spoiling anything here–you really should just go watch it, it’s free on the FOX website if you’re in the US–but I wanted to talk a bit on why it’s my favorite active television show right now, and, thinking about it, the show I’ve had the most fun watching in a very long time.
As many of you likely know, The Orville is very much Star Trek inspired–but I would not call it a parody at all, despite what some expected and what some of the early advertising painted it as. Put very simply, this is Star Trek, just with more humor, a generally lighter tone, with characters acting a little more like people would act in a modern work environment as opposed to the much more reserved, all-business characters on classic Trek.
As I’m sure most of you know by know, The Orville is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, of Family Guy fame, but while some of the humor is of the type that you might see in Family Guy, The Orville is more focused on the sci-fi, the exploration, and the characters than on the comedy. And while not every joke lands, in my opinion, only 6 episodes in, the show had just about figured out what jokes are the best fit, and they’ve just about figured out the right balance of comedy and space adventure drama. An impressive feat, given that many shows, including some acclaimed Star Trek shows, took whole seasons to find themselves.
From a visual standpoint, the show is excellent. It has nowhere near the budget of a Star Trek: Discovery, or a Game of Thrones, but it is in no way cheaply made. The sets, which channel those of classic Star Trek shows, are bright, well made, and look both aesthetically appealing an appropriately futuristic. The uniforms actually look comfortable and (in my opinion) more military than most of those in Star Trek. The props, likewise, look great, and behind the scenes featurettes have shown that many use practical effects for their internal lights, etc. Similarly, the ship itself is actually a physical model, like in older science fiction shows, for its static and slow moving shots. Only when it is doing acrobatic maneuvering is a CGI model used, and it does wonders in making the ship feel real. The same with the makeup on the main alien crew members. They’re not overloaded in makeup and CGI like certain modern Klingons, and are fully capable of emoting and speaking their lines while looking alien.
I don’t want this to end up a long post, as, if I let myself, I could go on for far too long,so I’ll wrap this up with a couple brief thoughts on just why this show works so well, and why it really is my favorite television show in a long time.
The main reason I love this show is that they did right by the characters–the most important aspect of any work of fiction. Every single major character on the show is enjoyable to watch, feels genuine, and is generally a likable person. I could see myself being friends with all of them if I existed in the universe of The Orville. Also importantly, the show takes the time to let the characters bond as well, be it while on duty on the bridge, on an away mission, or even in their down time. You truly get a sense that they are a crew, and that they are friends. Additionally, the show made the smart choice to not focus on one single “main” character like Star Trek: Discovery did, and different episodes focus on different members of the crew, allowing us to better understand them and their personal strengths and weaknesses. (And, on a personal note, the fact that there are three non-human main characters is an added bonus.)
Also, as I think I mentioned above, the show finds a good balance between a generally light-hearted tone and serious science fiction. It doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, and not every episode has a completely happy ending–and the advertising for the show is finally starting to shift focus from the comedy to the drama. In this, The Orville truly feels like classic Star Trek, with episodes being self-contained stories, albeit with small things (for now) that carry forward. Again, compare it to the highly serialized Star Trek: Discovery. There, you can almost see the writers struggling to make individual episodes interesting as they try and move the larger story forward. Here, that’s no problem.
Probably the highest praise I can give to The Orville now, just about halfway through its first season (of hopefully many) is this. After watching the first episode, my reaction was “This is pretty good; nothing ground-breaking or particularly profound, but it’s a fun show.” Now, however, I can safely say at this show is truly something great, that both carries on the otherwise lost spirit of classic Star Trek, but it is also very much its own unique thing, which can (and hopefully will) be with us for a long time. This show was spawned after Seth MacFarlane’s offer/request to do a Star Trek show was turned down. Instead of giving up and moving on to something else, however, he created his own unique interpretation of the genre, which will rival the series that inspired it–helped along by the involvement of numerous Star Trek alumni. It’s clear that everyone involved is very passionate about this project, and having a blast. I look forward to the DVD behind the scenes featurettes more than I have for any show in a long time.
If you haven’t already, go check it out! The critics may not have liked it, by over 90% of fan reviews on Rotten Tomatoes report enjoying The Orville, which says a lot. I know I’ll be sticking with it, and FOX had better give us another season–or six! (And for those of you in the US, you can watch all of the episodes on FOX’s website!)
My own space opera series isn’t quite a light in tone, but it does have enough light moments, I think, to keep it from becoming too dark and serious. Check out A Greater Duty over on Amazon, and sign up for my mailing list for free short fiction.