james debate
james debate

Sunday 22 April 2018

Created by Seth MacFarlane
Network Fox
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Scott Grimes, Halston Sage
Genre Science Fiction
Running Time 43 minutes

orville fox seth macfarlane family guy great better than star trek discovery

As my readers will recall, we have already discussed The Orville here on The Ephemeric, awarding it our prized Debbie Award for best new TV show of 2017. Yet despite our obvious enjoyment of the series, due to scheduling issues we were not able to submit a full review at the time. With the news percolating across the Internet that a second season has begun filming, and following our recent review of Star Trek's mixed bag of a new series, the time feels right to revisit.

To get to the point: this is the series you should be watching. If you are a fan of classic Star Trek, you'll appreciate this show. If you are a fan of science fiction which has more to say about the world in which we live than "he with the biggest laser gun wins", you'll appreciate this show. I'm as shocked as anyone about this one. Ordinarily I find myself broadly agreeing with the critical consensus, and Fox's The Orville, a passion project of comedian Seth Macfarlane, has been critically panned almost universally. Yet despite the critical response, The Orville has been widely acclaimed by viewers (particularly Star Trek fans who feel jilted by the new series) and is among the highest rated TV shows of the last fall. I'm sorry, but in this case I am with the latter camp. The critics are just plain wrong.

Forbes' Erik Kain put it best. The Orville was billed as akin to a TV version of cult classic Galaxy Quest, essentially a spoof of the old Star Trek series. Subsequently critics have obsessed about forcing the show into neat boxes as either too silly for a drama, or too serious for a comedy. Such arguments miss the point entirely. The Orville does not aspire to be a "comedy Star Trek" at all, it is in actual fact a near spot-on homage. People forget just how light the older Star Trek shows often were, and The Orville nails the tone of its forbears. But most importantly the stories are just as rich and relevant as ever.

The Orville, as with Star Trek, is an example of allegorical science fiction. Each episode imparts its own social commentary, and most are very astute. But The Orville offers more than mere nostalgia, and most excels when it attempts to combine the soul of classic Trek with the modern flourish of the Netflix age. One episode in particular, commenting on the group-think and mob mentality of social media, almost feels more like an episode of Black Mirror than Star Trek.

These are episodes of high quality too, particularly for a debut season. We like to look back at old seasons of Star Trek and pick out the best episodes, imagining that the entire series was that good. In reality, even the best seasons of Star Trek were 25 episodes, at least 40% of which was largely filler. This season is ten episodes, and none of it feels wasted (except maybe the first episode).

It's not perfect by any means. Not all the jokes land, and sometimes Seth's more low-brow style of Family Guy humour can creep into the script (although to be perfectly honest, not as often as you would think). Some of the plot-direction can be a bit wonky, particularly in early episodes, and occasionally the quality of the production shows cracks - for example certain alien characters' prosthetic makeup changing during the show because the crew couldn't decide what to do with it. These are all minor issues, and once the season builds momentum, the quality becomes much more consistent.

Ultimately, The Orville is a show that feels very timely for the age in which we live. It brings back a style of episodic storytelling that is very much out of fashion on TV today, and presents us with well thought out commentaries which riff on everything from politics to identity and pop culture. If you were a fan of The Next Generation or Voyager, this is a no-brainer. Even if you weren't, this is just high quality, sincere sci-fi. A strong debut.

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