After writing three midseason reviews in a row about shows that have disappointed me this year, I get to write about the first season of The Orville, which was a series—frankly—that I didn’t expect to like before I began watching it. I’m not burying the lead here: I actually love this series, and am happy to write that it was renewed for a second season.
There is a ridiculous dichotomy on the Internet pitting The Orville against the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, which is a little like comparing apples to oranges. No, that simile isn’t quite right. It’s more like comparing two varieties of apples, let’s say a Honeycrisp to a Golden Delicious. I’ve liked the first season of ST:DSC (the preferred designation for the series, for reasons that should be obvious to you) so far, and it was renewed as well, which was just more good news as far as I was concerned.
The Orville is different from DSC. This is the last comparison I’ll make between the two. However, this Seth MacFarlane-created science-fiction series isn’t so different from the Star Trek series that came before. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it is another Star Trek series, only thinly disguised as a parody or homage. Sure, it has a few more comedic moments, which become less intrusive as the series continued from a pilot episode that was a bit awkward. But, at heart, it’s a science-fiction adventure show, made by people with a genuine respect, and even love, for the Star Trek universe.
This freshman season was perhaps 1000% better than that of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that’s a show I genuinely grew to love.
While only 12 episodes long, the series manages to introduce us to all of the major characters on board this Planetary Union vessel, laying the groundwork for a myriad of future episodes.
During the pilot episode, I couldn’t really get a feel for Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) or Lt. John LaMarr (J Lee), but both characters become more fully fleshed out during the season. Dr. Finn is a single mother of two sons, as well as a resourceful Union officer in her own right. And, as it turns out, more than a little sexy, something that didn’t come off initially. Lt. LaMarr begins basically as Lt. Gordon Malloy’s (Scott Grimes) jackass sidekick on the bridge, then becomes even more of a jackass when he’s arrested for desecrating a statue during one episode, but eventually redeems himself when he’s revealed to be a supergenius who has learned to hide his light under a bushel. By the end of the season, he becomes the Orville‘s Chief Engineer, ala Geordi LaForge.
The individual episodes are frequently exciting, engaging, often humorous and sometimes derivative, not unlike Star Trek at all. While I didn’t much care for the dynamic initially set up between Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), this was favorably altered during the season as well, and the former married couple ends the season in a much better place, with a genuine chemistry that was jarringly absent from the pilot.
I’m not going to spend too much time discussing individual episodes, but I wanted to highlight a few performances. Rob Lowe is terrific as the blue-skinned Darulio, the guy who broke up Mercer’s marriage. Victor Garber also shines during his appearances as Admiral Halsey, while Chad L. Coleman surprises as Lt. Commander Bortus’ partner Klyden. And, of course, Norm MacDonald is perfect as the voice of the gelatinous Yaphit, who has a crush on Dr. Finn.
The makeup, model work, and CGI effects in this show are as good as anything I’ve seen, and better than most. The people behind the series don’t treat it as a joke, because it isn’t one. This is good science-fiction as viewed through the slightly warped MacFarlane lens.
Bottom line: you should watch The Orville if you were one of those who wrote it off before it even started. If you’ve already watched the first season, you should join me in continuing to watch when the second season begins.