by Alan Yudman
I am four episodes into Seth MacFarlane’s slightly off-kilter sci-fi series THE ORVILLE, and I gotta say I am surprised. Is it perfect? Nope. But it is pleasant and thoughtful in ways I never thought I’d describe a Seth MacFarlane created show.
If you aren’t familiar with it, THE ORVILLE is a ship that is captained by MacFarlane’s Ed Mercer. His first officer is Adrianne Palicki, his ex-wife who broke up their marriage by cheating with a blue alien. The first episode was full of divorce humor and I was afraid that MacFarlane would beat us over the head with it. But he wisely chose to leave it there and move on.
Media reports said the pilot was sold as “Family Guy in space”. That is not even close to what this is. It’s sci-if adventure with jokes. Not a lot of jokes. Not everything is fodder for humor. And that works. The characters seem real (as real as aliens could possibly seem). The show is not holier than thou or preachy like Star Trek seemed to become with each new series (jury is still out on Discovery). They make mistakes, they poke fun at each other. It’s kind of a workplace dramedy set on a space ship.
But just when you think it’s just adventure and laughs it deals with real issues. In the second episode the security chief (Halston Sage), a young lieutenant who has exceptional physical strength is left in command. She is full of self doubt and unsure she is ready. But she uses the counsel of the ship’s doctor (Penny Johnson Jerald) to overcome her doubt and learn about herself.
Episode three is even better. The ships second officer (Peter Macon) is from a planet where men are the only gender. He and his partner (Chad Coleman) have a female child. The episode deals with issues like female mutilation, parenting and discrimination. And it is handled superbly. Heavy stuff for what was supposed to be a goofball comedy.
I read one review that said this, not DISCOVERY is the series Star Trek fans have been waiting for. Not sure I’d go that far. MacFarlane is still not a great actor, he may not even be a good one. But his supporting cast (Palicki, Johnson-Jerald, Macon, Sage, Scott Grimes, Mark Johnson and J. Lee) can carry the weight when he can’t. Plus, the cameos! Liam Neeson in Episode four and Charlize Theron in Episode five. I mean, c’mon!!!
So I’m in. THE ORVILLE has been a pleasant surprise. I hope it continues to grow into itself and I hope FOX gives it a chance.