The Orville Review
If you’ve seen the trailers for Seth MacFarlane’s new series The Orville, you would not be remiss in thinking it is a comedy. But you would be wrong. The show is a little bit sitcom, a little bit rom-com, a little bit sci-fi – and it doesn’t work on any level.
MacFarlane plays Ed Mercer, who has finally been granted his own space craft to command. His second-in-command, Kelly Grayson, also happens to be his ex-wife – Ed walked in on Kelly having an affair with a blue alien. Other crewmembers include helmsman Gordon, Ed’s best friend; crew physician Dr. Claire Finn; Alara Kitan, a young, inexperienced security officer; and navigator John LaMarr.
From the first two episodes I watched, The Orville seems to follow a “case of the week” format. The ship gets an assignment, they go investigate, and something goes wrong. Not a bad formula for a TV show – but only if it is done right.
The show doesn’t know what it wants to be. It feels like it should be a sitcom, but the hour-long format doesn’t support much comedy. There were numerous scenes that felt like they dragged on, just because they needed to fill time. Or there would be repetitive scenes, like Alara constantly going back and forth, looking for advice, when she is temporarily put in charge of the Orville. It just smacks of stretching for time. The editing really could have been tightened up overall. Only David Lynch can get away with characters standing there, looking like they are waiting for someone to yell “Action.”
The show attempts to be a romantic comedy, but only the most frustrating parts of a rom-com. Ed and Kelly fight half-heartedly throughout the show. Ed is sullen and sulky because his wife cheated on him; Kelly is tired of feeling bad about it and puts some of the blame on him. Clearly the point is that they are trying to work together and put the past behind them, but it just comes across as awkward. MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki don’t have any chemistry, so more often than not I am cringing whenever the two have a scene together – which is frequent.
The rest of the cast is bland at best. Penny Johnson Jerald, who plays Dr. Finn, is the “voice of reason,” the mature, stabilizing force that every crew needs. Scott Grimes, who plays Gordon, is goofy but not as funny as I feel he was meant to be. However, he has better chemistry with MacFarlane than Palicki does, so the two work well together. Halston Sage plays Alara with doe-eyed innocence that I find frustrating for a security officer. J. Lee, who plays LaMarr, is the only character who gave me a genuine laugh with a comment he makes about Compton, but I don’t think that joke will land if you aren’t familiar with the Los Angeles area.
It doesn’t land on a sci-fi level, either. You have a few aliens on board: Alara, who, other than ridges on her forehead and extreme strength due to being from a planet with heightened gravity, doesn’t have any alien attributes. Bortus (played by Peter Macon) is a big, burly alien from a single-gender planet who could get interesting, but he spends most of the second episode sitting on an egg and I lost interest. In episode two, there is a human zoo which is a semi-common sci-fi trope and a rich area for material, but most of the time is spent with Ed and Kelly in a mockup of their apartment, so it devolves back into the rom-com trope.
The Orville could have a lot going for it. I think Seth MacFarlane is very funny, and I love the idea of a humorous sci-fi show. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Retool the show as a half-hour with a focus on the comedy, then let’s talk.
The Orville will have a special two-night premiere on FOX on Sunday, September 10th and 17th immediately following football. Starting September 21st, the show moves to its regular time slot, Thursdays at 9pm.
Are you looking forward to The Orville? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.