Though I have a dozen weird shows to keep up with at all times, I can’t help but have one consistent recommendation for a number of years, The Orville.
Originally, the show appeared to be Family Guy guru Seth Macfarlane’s attempt at doing a live-action Star Trek spoof on FOX, and perhaps that’s how originally it was introduced and greenlit. Because the indeed Show? It’s not that. Not even close.
The Orville, now completing its third season under new ownership on Hulu, is far from a parody of anything. It’s much more of a homage or homage to early Star Trek, which Macfarlane clearly adores, but given that currently State of Trek, somehow, unlikely, it’s actually a lot better than any other current Star Trek project, be it Discovery or Picard. Lately, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has felt like it’s going to move on The Orville for inspiration in addition to older Trek, given the shift in focus to smaller, occasionally humorous stories.
Another odd element here is how much you can see the budget increasing over the seasons. Season 1 looks like it’s practically an SNL sketch. Season 2 got way more money for space battles and such. Season 3, now funded by Hulu/Disney, produces near-blockbuster-level sequences with running times to match, including last week’s wild ninth episode with a four-way battle royale over the fate of the universe. Things have… escalated. “If a show’s good, give it more money” sounds like Hollywood 101, and yet that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should.
But the reason The Orville works so well is because, despite all the flashy effects, it stays grounded with its characters. By focusing intensely on the core cast of 6-7 main characters, we get those year-long arcs that really pay off with continued investment. The best deal with the saga of Topa, a child from a terribly oppressive alien culture, and Isaac, a sentient robot constantly torn between his acquired human family and the directives of his native race. If I have any criticisms of this show, it’s that the character the show probably least relates to is Captain Ed Mercer himself. Some say Macfarlane is unfit for the role and shouldn’t have cast himself, but I don’t think that’s the problem. It’s more that he feels more like an observer than a significant participant in these more compelling sagas.
Then of course there’s the politics, which doesn’t feel like a 2022 “awakened” thing, but again a trip back to the original Star Trek, which constantly dealt with social issues, although some fans would like to forget that. Here the show covers a really wide range of issues here with surprising heart, be it misogyny, transphobia or even abortion. There are many ways this could all go wrong, and none of them want would have worked if The Orville was a true “spoof”. But after three seasons, it feels like despite being inspired by Trek, it’s built its own characters and mythologies that can resonate with audiences even if they’ve never seen Star Trek at all. That pretty much describes me because while I’ve seen a few seasons and movies over the years, I’ve never been a true Trekkie. But I’m a fan of The Orville now, and in this age of non-stop Star Wars and Marvel stuff, Disney would do well to cultivate potentially new and compelling original universes like this in its catalogue.
Check it out, you won’t regret it.
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