The crew of the Orville has had an interesting ride, both within the show and also outside it. This homage to Star Trek created a huge, divisive disparity between harsh critics and loving fans, with the latter side clearly emerging as the victor seeing as a second season is right round the corner. Seth MacFarlane's The Orville is not just a fitting homage to Star Trek's long legacy - it's a show that deserves to have its place within Star Trek canon. While initially starting out being decent enough but highly promising, the show's own identity began to slowly emerge and flourish as it went on, which can also be said of its characters and their development.
Achieving the balance between sci-fi, drama and comedy was always going to be one of the crucial elements to tackle, and for the most part that healthy balance is effortlessly achieved. From the beginning, the marketing was always sort of misleading since it made the series look like a sci-fi comedy/spoof in the same vein as Spaceballs or Galaxy Quest, when actually it's more of a drama with some comedic elements sprinkled throughout. This may be why critics weren't so struck with it, feeling that the comedy was unnecessary and added nothing to the overall vision of the show, and while it is true that the comedy aspect can be hit or miss, that is ultimately an unfair criticism. You need to have levity and humour in a dark situation, otherwise you're just completely mired in depression and angst, plus it helps make the serious moments all the more weighty and relatable.
This series also addresses its concepts, politics and issues superbly, and not once did these ideas become watered down to the point where it became ineffective. The show tackles the issues of race relations, war, gender reassignment, self-doubt in a working environment, religion, faith, media, infidelity and so forth, and each instalment feels fresh and exciting in a way that keeps you coming back for more. Highlight episodes like 'About a Girl', 'Into the Fold' and 'Firestorm' are perfect examples of how well this show approaches certain topics and how characters cope with them. The writing is strong for the most part thanks to MacFarlane, David A. Goodman, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and co., while the music makes the whole show feel grand and adventurous. The set design is impeccable, capturing the look, feel and essence of Star Trek, while the makeup and effects are pretty top notch for this kind of TV budget.
The characters help make this series shine, and the cast do their best in giving the characters their identity and personality. While he does have the occasional humorous moment here and there, MacFarlane actually gives a very nuanced and restrained performance as Ed Mercer, really making us believe he is the everyman in position of commanding an entire fleet, and in the end he quite possibly delivers the best performance of his career. Adrianne Palicki does an astounding job of bringing real sympathy and likeability to Kelly Grayson, a character who is desperately trying to redeem herself after committing adultery in the beginning, and props to Palicki for maintaining this all the way through. Other terrific standouts include Penny Johnson Jerald as the highly resourceful and believable Dr. Claire Finn, Halston Sage bringing real dedicated feistiness and vulnerability as Alara Kitan, Peter Macon as the reliable but deadpan Bortus, and Mark Jackson who manages to give depth and charm to the inhuman android Isaac.
Whatever you may think of The Orville, there is no denying that this is a heartfelt reiteration of Star Trek's 52-year legacy and captures the tradition of what makes that world so distinctive and creative. It feels like a cross-bred hybrid of The Next Generation and Galaxy Quest, balancing the drama and weight of TNG with the latter's knowing self-awareness and sly humour, and it all just about works for the most part. Excellent characters are complemented hugely by terrific performances, it's visually stunning, and it approaches its themes and concepts with real maturity. With season 2 approaching fast, hopefully MacFarlane and company will iron out the kinks and continue to build upon what made this first season a great first outing. Whether or not you're a Star Trek fan, a sci-fi fan or a Seth MacFarlane fan in general, The Orville is a thoroughly entertaining show that deserves to be seen.
THE ORVILLE SEASON 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: SETH MACFARLANE, ADRAINNE PALICKI, PENNY JOHNSON JERALD, SCOTT GRIMES, PETER MACON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW