Martin Carr reviews the first episode of The Orville…
This looks and feels like a flagship network show. Seth MacFarlane stands front and centre taking on full creative responsibility for The Orville. An affectionate and none to subtle pastiche of The Next Generation, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and of course Star Trek: The Original Series. High production values, solid writing and spot on casting make this opening episode a pleasure from start to finish.
Setting up a fractious premise within the first minute MacFarlane reins in his comedic muscles and plays it straight throughout. Any gags are on point and used sparingly making room for a great space based dramedy. Characters are set up quickly and given time to find their feet, develop dynamics and never feel two-dimensional. Everyone from Scott Grime’s Gordon Mallory to Halston Sage’s Alara Kitan become familiar quickly, are given decent physical and verbal jokes as well as contributing to any drama on-screen.
Dialogue is sharp, free of needless exposition and feels fresh whilst still tipping a hat towards its chief inspiration. MacFarlane and Palicki as captain and first officer spark off each other and sees him move aside for others rather than grabbing all the best lines. MacFarlane’s talent as performer, writer and driving force are undeniable, yet any deviation outside his Family Guy, American Dad wheelhouse has been noticeably hit and miss. What he does here is pepper his interstellar soap opera with enough class A gags without diluting the drama and keeping our interest.
Directed by feature film helmsman Jon Favreau, The Orville is slick, polished, entertaining and over too quickly. Within fifteen minutes this show hits the ground running with a good ratio of one liners, background jokes and decent character beats. Knowing nods to his audience over the issue of character names or absurdly bland set ups during high tension, all point out MacFarlane’s love of this genre. Standouts from this opener include Scott Grime’s helmsman, J. Lee’s John LaMarr and Adrianne Palicki’s Kelly Grayson. Off kilter characterisation, solidly sarcastic delivery and on point comic timing make these people spring off the screen.
As for the mission it’s lifted straight from a Star Trek mission log, playing out in similar fashion and striking that rare balance of conflict resolution necessary for any forty minute show. By standing back and writing well-rounded characters for others to play MacFarlane has given us something which I feel will run and run. The Orville maybe pastiche but there is more than enough beyond nostalgia to create its own fan base. Genuinely funny, universally appealing and done with the sense of a real passion project, Fox may well have found a long-term series in the making.