Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Seth MacFarlane Makes Better Trek With The Orville Season 1 Than The Current Custodians Of That Franchise!

The Good: Good dialogue, Engaging plots, Decent characters and character development, Genuinely funny, Special effects
The Bad: Short season, Some moments of predictability/less-developed characters
The Basics: The Orville Season 1 is a love letter to what Star Trek used to be with fresh, realistic dialogue and characters, making it a must-watch show!

Seth MacFarlane is, no doubt, tired of hearing comparisons between his show, The Orville, and Star Trek. And yet, it is hard not to make those comparisons given that the writing for The Orville - at least on the plot and theme fronts - is such a clear homage to Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. In some of its most clever moments, The Orville even makes allusions to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager; yes, all of the Star Trek franchise from when the franchise was growing, at its peak, and maintained a pretty consistent level of quality. Anyone who has listened to a commentary track or interview featuring Seth MacFarlane or have watched the episodes he wrote and developed of his other shows knows that Seth MacFarlane is a big fan of the Star Trek franchise. And while The Orville is not part of the Star Trek franchise, it has more of the thematic heart and soul of Star Trek than the hideous current Star Trek television series, Star Trek: Discovery.

But, to dispense with the comparative aspects, The Orville Season 1 is a twelve episode season of science fiction comedy that follows the adventures of the starship Orville, 400 years in the future. The adventures are, largely, recognizable to fans of the Star Trek franchise. There is an "everybody falls in love" style episode, an "alien culture with one key difference makes for an allegory to a contemporary social problem" style episode, aliens capture important crewmembers for a zoo or experimentation and the season finale is deft weaving together of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Meridian" (reviewed here!) and the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Blink Of An Eye" (reviewed here!). The Orville even cleverly rewrites and reworks the classic Star Trek episode "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" (reviewed here!). The plots of The Orville are not likely to surprise fans of the Star Trek franchise.

But those fans are likely to be entertained and excited by the twelve episodes of the first season of The Orville.

The Orville is a science fiction comedy and what sets it apart from the more straightlaced science fiction works like (most of) the Star Trek franchise is the dialogue and the characters. The characters in The Orville talk like real people, they interact like real people, they encounter their fantastic circumstances and alien influences like human beings, not over-the-top archetypes. The characters interact with a surprising sense of realism; the series opens with the would-be Captain being cheated on and he does not simply forgive his ex-wife, the helmsman and navigator joke with one another and develop a friendship but Lt. Malloy is a bad influence on Lt. LaMarr, and the ship's doctor is hit on relentlessly by a gelatinous being who she is not interested in. The alien characters, like Alara, have realistic conflicts - her boyfriend is intimidated by her physical strength, so she finds herself constantly loveless. The most prominent alien couple, Bortus and his partner Klyden, are strained when they have a child . . . and the robot character, Isaac, acts as a mirror that allows human nature to be explicitly explored.

Set hundreds of years in the future, when humans are the dominant population of the interstellar Union, Ed Mercer returns home to find his wife in bed with a blue-skinned alien. Pissed off, Mercer leaves Kelly and loathes her for her behavior. But, when the Orville is commissioned and prepared to leave spacedock, Kelly calls in a favor from Admiral Halsey, arranging for Mercer to get command of the new ship. Kelly is assigned as First Officer of the Orville, much to Mercer's disgust. But, Mercer assembles his command staff and the ship heads out into the galaxy.

On the outer reaches of explored space, the Orville comes under attack by the Krill, a vicious alien race that thrives on warfare. The ship encounters a massive colony ship where the people are ignorant of the fact that they are aboard a spaceship and they are oppressed by a fanatical religious order. One of the command crew gets trapped in a series of nightmares and the all-male race that is represented on the Orville by Bortus and Klyden experiences a schism when the pair has a daughter. Kelly accidentally influences a less-evolved alien race and Mercer and Malloy have to go undercover on a Krill ship to prevent a major attack on the Union.

The Orville features characters who joke with one another, react in unprofessional ways - they get freaked out by horrible or dangerous things when they encounter them - and have realistic, often carnal, needs. The characters make mistakes, try to live up to higher ideals and do not always succeed and they hold grudges. As a result, The Orville Season 1 is remarkably accessible and entertaining. The characters are relatable and in most of the episodes, they are funny. The show is dominated by the hate-love relationship between Ed Mercer and Kelly Grayson, but most of the characters are surprisingly well-developed over the course of the first season.

In the first season of The Orville, the primary characters are:

Captain Ed Mercer - Promoted to Captain of the Orville, he is bitter about having to take Grayson on as his First Officer. He is good-natured and friendly and curious about the cultures of the different alien races of his crew and the planets the Orville visits. He is friends with Malloy and slowly comes to rely upon Grayson for her perspective. He is good at improvising when he has to and does his best to oversee the crew of the Orville, even though he does not know all their names,

Commander Kelly Grayson - Mercer's ex-wife, she had an affair with Darulio and is shocked when he turns up as an expert needed for one of the Orville's missions. She is patient with Mercer while he works through his feelings over her betrayal. She befriends Alara and quickly recognizes the potential in LaMarr and advocates on his behalf,

Dr. Claire Finn - A single mother of two boys, she sees to the wellbeing of the crew of the Orville. She is hit on by Yaphit - a gelatinous assistant chief engineer who is very smarmy - and is excellent at her job,

Lt. Commander Bortus - One of two Moclans (an all-male race) aboard the Orville, he is married to Klyden and he acts as the ship's Second Officer. He and Klyden are shocked when they have a girl, which forces them to return to Moclan to determine what to do about their gendered child. He is unfamiliar with human customs and is awkward in many of their social situations. He and Klyden become somewhat estranged after their daughter is born,

Lt. Alara Kitan - The security chief of the Orville, she is a young woman with super-strength because of her planet's higher-gravity. Mercer quickly comes to rely upon her for her strength when the ship encounters closed doors and violent aliens. When she freezes up during an emergency in Engineering, she becomes determined to excise herself of fear,

Lt. Gordon Malloy - A slacker helmsman, he loves practical jokes and is one of the few members of the Orville crew that Mercer knows coming in. He is sarcastic and pranks Isaac until the robot's turnabout turns out to be horrible for him. He is a bad influence on LaMarr, but he is so good at what he does that Mercer taps him to help infiltrate a Krill warship,

Lt. John LaMarr - The ship's navigator, he tries to fly under the radar by not living up to his potential. He is part of a mission where he humps a statue and becomes a criminal on a planet where criminals are judged by social media. He is put in the running for Chief Engineer when Newton decides to move on,

and Isaac - The ship's science officer and a robot, he is unfamiliar with many human mannerisms and asks the bridge crew about them. With a power supply that is designed to last for millions of years, he is chosen for a mission on a planet where time moves at a very different rate than in our universe. He tries his hand at pranks with Malloy and mutilates the other bridge officer!

The Orville might be derivative of Star Trek for its plots and sense of cultural advancement, but it has a strong, unique look and feel to it. The Orville is well-lit, the crew moves at a relaxed pace, the faster-than-light engine conceit is a fun light-up effect on the aft bows of the ship; the universe in which The Orville is set looks advanced and comfortable, while still populating that setting with relatable characters.

Seth MacFarlane wrote most of the episodes in the first season of The Orville and he stars as Captain Ed Mercer. MacFarlane and Adrienne Palicki have great on-screen chemistry to play the bickering couple, while maintaining a sense that the characters might well have had good years together prior to their split. Peter Macon and Halston Sage play the alien characters with a delightful, off-put quality that makes them feel like they are not quite used to working with the humans their characters are surrounded by. Penny Johnson Jerald leaps into the role of Chief Medical Officer with all the jargon her Star Trek Deep Space Nine character was never saddled with quite ably.

Ultimately, The Orville Season 1 is an entertaining, thematically-smart science fiction romp that manages to consistently find the right balance between humor and moralizing, realistic dialogue and science fiction action sequences, making for one of the 2017 television season's most delightful surprises!

For other works from the 2017 - 2018 television season, please check out my reviews of:
The Punisher - Season 1
"A Life Earned" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Inhumans - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 2
Rick And Morty - Season 3
"Beebo The God Of War" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Don't Run" - The Flash
"Reign" - Supergirl
"Crisis On Earth-X, Part 2" - Arrow
"Into The Forest I Go" - Star Trek: Discovery
Twin Peaks - Season 3 ("The Return")
Game Of Thrones - Season 7
The Defenders - Season 1
Friends From College - Season 1


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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