Fox's new science fiction series The Orville has finally left drydock and it more than deserves a chance to stretch it's legs. Fox has a fabulous track record of ruining series from the broadcast booth, and hopefully they won't pull a Firefly. Starring Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted) as the newly appointed captain of the starship U.S.S. Orville, the show has been often referred to as a spoof, but to call it that does it a huge disservice.
Recently BBC America has been running a Star Trek (The Original Series) marathon, and in watching any number of those episodes, the light hearted approach isn't far off the tone of Orville. Sure the humor is more modern (read "crass") than it was in '66-'69), but it lands about the same as it did at the time for contemporary audiences. Mixing in some dramatic moments among the first several episodes, there's far more right notes that are hit than misses.
It can be said that there are so many flavors of Star Trek running around spanning six television series (with CBS's Discovery soon to make a seventh) and thirteen films over the course of half a century, what "the spirit of Star Trek" means will vary from person to person. And it's 2017, not 1967, so perhaps the dark and grimy look of Discovery is what a new audience will want; however for legions of fans, there's a reason that Galaxy Quest is still regularly lauded as among the best of the Star Trek films.
MacFarlane as Captain Ed Mercer isn't the top of his class. In fact he's only being tapped because the
Federation Planetary Union has so many starships, they're having a hard time finding qualified captains, so they toss him the keys to a mid-level exploration vessel. The initial episodes are of him taking command, meeting the various members of his crew, and getting a last-minute first officer in the form of his ex-wife Kelly Grayson (played by Adrianne Palicki). There's new worlds to explore, trade delegations to wrangle with, and bad-guy aliens to do battle with.
Star Trek alum Brannon Braga (he was a producer and executive producer on Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise), is the Exec on Orville, and along with showrunner David A. Goodman (who was a supervising producer for more than 40 episodes of Enterprise), they've said that the series has humor, but it's not meant as a farce or spoof. During a panel at this year's Creation Entertainment Star Trek Las Vegas convention, Braga said:
It's funny, at times very funny, but the stakes are real, its science-fiction ideas I think are really cool, it's a good mix of comedy but also drama. It's like M*A*S*H, you'll be laughing one second and the next something very serious is going on. You have to be involved, you can't do an hour long satire of the genre. It's a loving tribute to this kind of storytelling.
I missed the kind of storytelling that Star Trek did which are standalone parables, with beginning middle and end. I worked on 24 and I did serialized storytelling for the most part, and I really really missed it.
The Orville airs Sunday nights on Fox at 8/7 central, and can also be watched on the fox.com website if you have a login from your cable or satellite provider.