The Orville: Pilot Episode “Old Wounds”: a review

I just watched the first episode of Seth MacFarlane’s new science-fiction comedy The Orville. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. I was expecting a spoof of Star Trek (with perhaps some Star Wars and other science fiction properties thrown into the mix) along the lines of Galaxy Quest or Spaceballs. Or, maybe, something like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

It wasn’t that.

In fact, much of this first episode is played straight, not as a spoof or parody. If there was one element of the show that seemed too forced to me, it was the parts that make this a comedy. I would never have thought I’d write that about a Seth MacFarlane program. I think this would have been a better episode with a few less gags.

MacFarlane is a Trekkie. Of that, there is no doubt. This is another new Trek show that’s pretending to be a parody. Instead of the Federation, there’s the Union. Instead of warp drive, there’s quantum drive. And so on, and so forth. A genuine respect, even love, for the Trek universe is apparent in the execution of this episode. The special effects are better than in most of the Trek episodes I’m currently watching now, and the makeup effects are very good. This looked more big-budget than the early seasons of TNG, DS9 or Voyager, and way more big-budget than the original Star Trek series, of course.

The story of the pilot is how Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) assumes command of The Orville as captain. We are told that Mercer has spent a year getting over the dissolution of his marriage, and his career has suffered for it. He is given this command as a last chance. Of course, his ex-wife Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) joins the ship as Mercer’s XO, because being forced to work with your ex-wife as your second-in-command is a huge potential source of both drama and comedy. It’s also something that would never have been allowed to happen if we were going for any type of realism. It was great to see Palicki again, since I enjoyed her run on Agents of SHIELD as Bobbi Morse, but she and MacFarlane have little on-screen chemistry. At least not yet.

In the true Trek tradition, the senior crew is a motley one. Captain Mercer brings on his friend Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) as his helmsman. Malloy is a wild card of a character with a penchant for getting into trouble. Alara (Halston Sage) is a young alien from a world with much higher gravity than Earth’s, which results in her having super strength. Another of the senior officers who stood out was Bortus (Peter Macon) who is reminiscent of Worf from TNG, a large alien with an impressive baritone voice, apparently a member of an all-male alien race. There is another alien on the bridge named Isaac, who is possibly a robot (since he’s named Isaac, I should hope so). There are others as well, but none that really did much in this episode.

The B-plot of this pilot episode involves The Orville delivering supplies to a science station, only to discover that an agressive alien race called the Krill are attempting to take some sort of impressive science prototype—a MacGuffin—from the station. This becomes the new crew’s first adventure, and they manage to defeat the Krill in a rather impressive fashion. Of course, in the Trek tradition, their ship is heavily damaaged in the process.

This was a marginally exciting action sequence. Again, it was the humor that seems forced into the plot that detracts from the show, in my opinion. First, it’s not very funny. Second, it knocks me out of the fictive dreamspell that a good show creates. And, the upshot of it is that this could be a very good show, if the comedy elements were downplayed.

MacFarlane isn’t fooling me for one minute. He wants to be the captain of a Starfleet vessel, and this is the closest he’s able to come to achieving that. If this show isn’t considered a parody, satire, or spoof, then it’s a blatant ripoff, and this would never be allowed to happen. Especially when MacFarlane’s personal brand is irreverent and sometimes raunchy humor.

It’s a shame, really. I would enjoy this more as a straight science-fiction series.

I’m not giving up on the series yet. This was one episode. The entire first season of TNG was pretty much putrid. I’ll give it time to find its legs. But this was a confusing and sometimes inconsistent start.

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