Going into the Orville you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was nothing more than a Star Trek parody from the guy who made Family Guy. This is admittedly what I originally thought and was why I put off watching it for so long, and is after all how the show was marketed prior to its release. Specifically the trailers showed us what looked like a silly, simple, and somewhat unoriginal Star Trek rip off with a load of adult humour thrown in to make it feel fun.
After watching the first few episodes (and then the entire season) however, you can’t help but argue that this isn’t the case at all. Yes in a lot of ways it is a pretty shameless rip off of classic Star Trek, and there is definitely a decent amount of adult humour in there, but none of it feels overly forced and in all honesty the characters and story take centre stage more often than anything else.
The show opens on the year 2418 to Seth McFarlane’s Ed Mercer walking in on his wife sleeping with a bright blue alien, we then jump forward a year to Ed (despite spending the past twelve months drinking and slowly ruining his career) getting the chance to captain an exploratory vessel known as the Orville. He brings along his best friend Lieutenant Gordon Malloy, who happens to be the best pilot in the Union (the Orville’s version of the Star Fleet), and is also somewhat of a drunk who doesn’t take his job all to seriously.
Once on the ship they meet the rest of the crew that includes the Orville’s Chief Medical Officer Doctor Claire Finn, Lieutenant Commander Bortus, the ships’ second officer, Lieutenant Alara Kitan, the Orville’s Chief of Security, navigator (and later chief engineer) Lieutenant John LaMarr, and lastly Isaac the Science and Engineering officer, who happens to be an alien robot. The real kicker for Ed comes when he finds out his first officer is going to be Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palecki), his ex wife.
Again you’d think the trope of the ‘ex’s who now hate each other, but maybe don’t really’ would get old fast (as it so often has on TV), but it really plays less of a role than you’d expect on the show (again going against how the show was originally marketed), it’s definitely there and has it’s ups and downs, but never gets in the way of the story, and is dealt with pretty maturely overall.
What we do get in the show is a solid exploration of it’s main cast, showcasing how different species interact, and some unexpectedly deep storylines, that include an all male species giving birth to a female and wanting her to have a sex change at birth, a society whose entire social structure and legal system is based on giving each other up votes and down votes, and a world from another universe worshipping one of the Orville’s crew as a god.
Overall I‘d argue that the show comes off as more of a love letter to Star Trek, than anything else, one through the scope of Seth McFarlane’s particular brand of humour. In terms of it’s relationship to Star Trek we can look at it in comparison with the most recent series CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery (that aired simultaneously with CBS on Netflix around the world), and actually debuted pretty much around the same time as The Orville.
Where the Orville offers a throwback space exploration show akin to Star Trek the original series, and in particular Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager (both of which had a particularly 90’s feel – something The Orville goes out of it’s way to emulate), Star Trek: Discovery gives us a more modern, grounded and gritty reboot of the Star Trek franchise, combining elements from the recent movies and the original show.
Arguments among fans have debated which of the shows is ‘more Star Trek’, with both Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville seemingly focussing on different elements of what made the original Star Trek series’. Either way, and no matter which you prefer, now is as good a time as any to be a Star Trek fan, with shows such as the Orville out there to make sure the spirit of the original shows lives on.