The Orville: My Review
To answer the immediate and obvious questions, yes, it is a blatant rip-off of the most successful Star Trek series to date: Star Trek: the Next Generation. Second, No, that’s not a bad thing. No, it’s not a comedy. Yes, it’s very much in the vein of Galaxy Quest (which was a comedy and a fantastic one). No, it’s not perfect, far from it, but yes, it’s worth your time and they’ve started stronger than any Star Trek series ever did.
So, let’s get into it.
A lot of people, myself included, think that Galaxy Quest was one of the best Star Trek movies ever made (yes I know Galaxy Quest wasn’t a Star Trek movie, I’m making a point). With very few exceptions, the writers and directors of that film understood what made Star Trek great better than many of the people who made actual Star Trek movies. It might be a bit early, but it sure looks like the people behind The Orville have a similar understanding. Watching The Orville made me want more, in a way that looking at the ugly, tone deaf, overwrought trailer for Discovery, the new Star Trek series, simply didn’t. It’s a little unfair to compare a show that’s out (and that I’ve now watched twice) to one that is only available in trailer form, but I stand by my impressions. I’ve got a very good track record of judging a show by it’s trailer. My trailer-fu is strong.
The Orville’s first episode served to introduce us to the characters, their struggles and skills, and the ship itself. Fans of the Star Trek franchise know that in these kind of shows, the ship is as much a character as anyone else. The introduction of the captain, makes him a sympathetic character and one we can root for. A few others got introductions, but nothing too detailed, leaving lots of room in future shows for said development.
We’re also introduced to the Krill, a hostile alien species that seems to be in a cold war with the Union (the interplanetary government in the Orville universe). I like their design but we really didn’t get enough to judge them as a foe.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
The episode itself is really just a setup with a short, mildly interesting story that has lots of chances for action, gun battles, and the central character’s using their skills. There was a lot I liked about the storytelling. First, proper use of Chekhov’s Gun, not once, but twice (Arbor Day and seat belts). Second, they didn’t introduce a new, and potentially galaxy altering technology, and then forget about it like Star Trek does ALL THE FRICKING TIME (Phasing-Cloaking, Transporter Age Reversal, Warp 10, etc.). The Orville made sure to explain why their new and universe-altering technology is not going to have an effect on the universe going forward. It’s a detail, sure, but it speaks to the storytelling skill of the writers. Having the XO come up with the idea that resolves the main plot helps to take the very real edge off her and makes us see her as more than her introduction. It helps us like her without letting her off the hook. Good writing.
So, what didn’t I like? The ship design is very hit and miss. The Orville is good, the Union shuttles aren’t. The Krill shuttles look awesome, their destroyer, not so much. In that vein, the music isn’t an homage to TNG, it’s a direct rip off. I have to admit that I like it, but it pulled me out of the story to reminisce about TNG. Probably not what they were going for. Then there’s the convenient plot things that don’t make sense. Why is the pilot circling the Krill destroyer when they only appear to have guns up front? Why not just hide inside their shuttle bay zone in the rear? How come Krill soldiers with rifles can’t hit squat, while the guys with pistols are cutting them down like wheat. (This was a great opportunity to be funny and explain that the Krill suffer perception problems in M class star light or some such, but they left that on the table.).
And the ugly. I must confess, I don’t watch Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane’s other big project. Sure it’s funny, sometimes hysterically so, but it’s like wading through an open sewer looking for the occasional diamond in the offal. Family Guy is also exceptionally, offensively crude and I’m just not willing to wade in the sewer to get to the comedy diamonds. I feel myself getting dumber as I watch. That said, the Orville is mercifully free from most of that kind of humor, which brings me to the ugly. The joke the captain made at the end, which was perfectly timed and placed, was good. Then a second joke was suggested that everyone agreed would ave been better. No. No it wouldn’t have been. The “better” joke made no sense in context and was most definitely not funnier than the one the captain made. It wasn’t funny at all. It was stupid. It reeked of the Family Guy sewer and I hope it will end up being an aboration rather than a foreshadowing of humor to come.
So I liked the Orville. It was more adventure-y than funny, but I didn’t feel cheated as a result. It worked well, for me anyway. I hope they continue to deliver and grow in good directions. I have a feeling this is the only show that will be scratching my Star Trek itch for a long, long time.
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