September 13, 2017
The first episode of “The Orville” was on Fox this past Sunday, and I thought it was great. I looked for online reviews after the show was over, and it got bad reviews. A lot of reviewers were mentioning things like ripping off Star Trek The Next Generation, and not being funny enough. I thought it was much better than expected, and I was looking forward to brightly-lit science fiction again. I was ready for “The Orville” as it is.
For those expecting better comedy a la “Galaxy Quest” or less direct-lifting of Star Trek tropes, I just have to say, you are dealing with Seth MacFarlane. This is what to expect from the man. If you had any other expectations, that’s your fault. You should have known better. You should have intelligently expected more of Mr. MacFarlane’s style. I just can’t sympathize with someone who doesn’t see the train coming, even when it’s blowing its horn full blast from miles away.
I found the show’s opening to have a gut-punch dose of harsh realism which helped ground the show for me. I wasn’t expecting something so human and so painful, but I thought it really made for a great story opener, it helped frame the captain (again, Mr. MacFarlane) as an under-performing underdog for a very good reason. It wasn’t completely out-of-tune with the rest of the show, but it really realligned my expectations for what the show was about, in short order, without resorting to endless boring monologues on how things are. As a visual medium, the show did great in showing me what the show is about, instead of telling me what it is about, which would be wrong for a television show.
Speaking of under-performing, I like how the title ship is not the flagship or even a front-line battleship. It is one of thousands of similar exploratory vessels that are all designed and built to do the same thing. the basic exploration that every Star Trek show claims for their ships’ raison d’etre. Flagships are never supposed to be out exploring. They are supposed to be hanging around home base. Providing a beacon of hope for its citizens, and a warning sign against those who would invade. Meanwhile, The Orville and her sister ships can go out and do all the dirty work. That leads us to the adventures that our heroes must endure. It makes more sense that way, to focus on a regular, basic ship.
Of course, the “Orville”, despite the “down-home” name, is a beautiful, elegant design, that reminds me of a flip-flop shoe. It’s got glowy bits and sweeping engines and is a fun design that both faintly echoes the Star Trek aesthetic, and pursues its own aesthetic. After all, the original Star Trek aesthetic started with an amalgamation of three rocket ships and a flying saucer, attached together with thin, spindly sticks. The “Orville”, on the other hand, has a much more cohesive, slightly less derivative design, which is worthy of note by itself. It’s a pretty little ship.
I really liked in the first episode, that people and materials were transported via shuttle, instead of being “teleported”. In the original Star Trek series, the crew were going to travel in shuttlecraft, but that exceeded the show’s budget, so they had the crew teleport everywhere. It’s refreshing to see a more practical matter-mover process in this show. However, I have heard that they copied the transporters too, so my pleasure at using shuttles for shuttling will be short-lived. Hopefully we’ll see some “Bones McCoy”-style misgivings about the transporter system that will be humorous. You can see the “Orville’s” shuttle in the background of the picture below.
All in all, I really enjoyed some of the finer details in the show. The costumes look reasonable, and look like they might actually have pockets, which is important. The “Orville” is small enough that the shuttle bay must double as the ship’s auditorium for all-staff meetings. The bridge crew engages in gossip in the absence of the captain. The walls of the ship are either thin enough or solid enough, that conversations in the captain’s office can be heard muffled on the bridge, further fueling gossip. The crew is largely professional and proficient. The crew is very likable, and there will be many, many opportunities for entertaining interactions.
Speaking of crew, there are some wonderfully “alien” aliens in the show that go way beyond just being forehead appliques. I really enjoyed the surprise of the “fish” in the first episode actually being a highly-intelligent botanist (instead of some experimental animal), and a crewmember on board the “Orville” is a friendly gelatinous flan that reforms after being deformed by an accidental, rushed encounter with the captain. I hope that particular crewmember comes back, because a gelatinous crewmember would be incredibly useful in many situations. Sadly, he will probably be a one-shot gag from this one episode. I also really liked the artificial, but very friendly video game character, Joshua, the talkative Ogre opponent. He needs to make a return appearance also.
I really enjoyed the evasive maneuvers which allowed the “Orville” to survive an encounter with a militarily superior alien spaceship. That is something that a more conventional “Star Trek” ship should be capable of, but we have simply never seen it before, so this was an excellent example of both the ship’s capability, and the capability of the great pilot that controls the ship. Furthermore, the pilot showed even more talent by performing a lateral barn-swallow of the shuttle during evasive maneuvers. That was a great part of the show, and really showed us something we had not really seen before.
This first episode missed an opportunity at one joke. They didn’t really waste any time with damaging the “Orville” in this first episode. After the captain gets back to the ship, he thanks his crewmate for returning the ship to him in one piece. However, that is incorrect. The ship’s engines had been shot to pieces by the military aliens. It would have been humorous if the crewmate had corrected the captain, saying something along the lines of “Actually, sir, the ship is in at least forty-thousand pieces, and that’s only counting the pieces that are large enough to register on ship’s sensors.” The captain could then respond with something like “Oh, uh, right. Well, anyway, thank you.” A lost opportunity, perhaps, but perhaps that character was staying in his character and wisely not correcting the Captain on the extent of the damage. His character is wise and stoic.
I really liked this show and liked thinking about it after it was over. The comedy didn’t bother me. The aesthetic was enjoyable to me and did not outrage me as theft. I really, genuinely enjoyed the show and did not later regret my enjoyment. I’m looking forward to more of the same in future episodes.