Review: Seth MacFarlane’s 'Star Trek'-inspired ‘The Orville’ flies off course

Review: Seth MacFarlane’s 'Star Trek'-inspired ‘The Orville’ flies off courseEntertainment

‘The Orville’ actor and producer Seth MacFarlane hopes audiences will embrace the blend of comedy and sci-fi his new Fox series offers (Aug 10). AP

It’s clear when watching Seth MacFarlane’s new Fox series The Orville that the comedian has a lot of affection for Star Trek. It’s less clear, however, what exactly he’s trying to do with his own space adventure. 

The Orville (Sundays, 9 ET/PT, moving to Thursdays, 9 ET/PT, on Sept. 21, ** out of four) appears to be a spoof of the classic sci-fi series with the crass humor he honed on Family Guy and Ted. But the final result is less a parody than a poor knockoff of Trek, an attempt at humorous homage that gets lost in space. 

More: Seth MacFarlane talks ‘The Orville’

MacFarlane created the series and stars as Ed Mercer, who’s made captain of the USS Orville after a year of dysfunction that followed his discovery that his wife Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) cheated on him.

Much like the crew of Trek‘s USS Enterprise, Ed and his officers see new planets, alien races and adventures each week. An assortment of misfits mans the vessel, including Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) a man-child helmsman; Alara (Halston Sage), a superpowered alien; Bortus (Peter Macon), a serious member of an all-male alien race; Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald), the ship’s doctor; and John (J. Lee), a wise-cracking crewman. And Kelly, of course, ends up on the Orville as its first officer, much to Ed’s (initial) displeasure. 

The biggest problem with The Orville is that it can’t strike a consistent or engaging tone, at least in the first three episodes made available for review. There are too few jokes for it to truly feel like a comedy (despite appearing that way in early promos), but attempts at humor muddy the series’ ambitions as a pure sci-fi adventure. By flirting with two genres, MacFarlane has created a messy series that lacks focus. 

Most of the time, The Orville is actually quite invested in the sci-fi world it creates. The series is surprisingly reliant on special effects and makeup, and builds an intriguing world with its own version of Star Fleet and a unique ship. And while it tells some interesting genre stories, the plots are undercut by a vomit gag or random jokes about who gets to be the car in a game of Monopoly.

The delivery of these jokes feels intensely unnatural, as most of the actors play their roles with painful sincerity. And while much of the humor stems from bickering between MacFarlane and Palicki, the pair lacks chemistry, making it neither believable nor particularly enjoyable. 

The jokes are not specific enough to Star Trek, or even the sci-fi genre, to make the series a smart parody like the 1999 film Galaxy Quest. The Orville simply has no point of view, other than reverence for Star Trek. There are moments of The Orville that seem truly inspired, such as its third episode, which uses its sci-fi setting to (literally) put gender stereotypes on trial. But the episode doesn’t  follow through or say anything unique. 

Instead, The Orville feels like a series that sounded good on paper — “Star Trek with Seth MacFarlane!” — but lost its way in the execution. The end result is more confusing than entertaining, and, with a genuine Star Trek series hitting CBS All Access later this month, feels unnecessary. 

We’ll see if The Orville can course-correct in time.

 

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