GRAPHIC BY YING YANG
By JENIBELLE HSU
Introducing The Orville: the newest Star Trek rip-off.
Set four hundred years in the future, The Orville is a space comedy series that follows the crew of a mid-level exploratory spaceship. Led by Commanding Officer Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his adulterous ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), the dysfunctional ensemble not only embark on space adventures but also encounter typical workplace problems.
Although The Orville explores everyday issues and mimics the lightheartedness of Star Trek’s early days, the show is ultimately dissonant and unoriginal because of MacFarlane’s ill-placed humor and striking semblance to the iconic sci-fi franchise.
Many fans of MacFarlane’s infamous comedy shows such as Family Guy expected the Emmy Award-winning creator to develop a creative and comical satire of the original Star Trek series. However, fans were discontented when The Orville strayed away from his reputable humor to create a mediocre sci-fi show.
Even when the series tries to model MacFarlane’s previous works, its jokes are often misplaced. Most notably, when lead scientists aged a banana with a new invention that can manipulate time, Mercer sarcastically said, “it is an anti-banana ray.” Though this facetious remark is perfect for a sitcom, it does not match the scene’s solemn mood. For this aspiring sci-fi show, such jokes disrupt the cohesiveness of the show and causes viewers to become disinterested.
The same pattern is present in one of the final scenes when the crew argues about the meaning of Mercer’s reference to Arbor Day. In this bold attempt to “‘casualize’ science fiction,” MacFarlane appears to take away the action and imagination that delineates science fiction from other genres. In short, he disappoints many viewers who were anticipating a classic sci-fi show.
In essence, the characters’ deadpan humor is simply immiscible with science fiction because such jokes spawn so many sudden breaks in the plot that the audience may forget the actual situation at hand. It is this amateur comedy that lessens the intended seriousness of the homage to Star Trek. Ultimately, The Orville’s out-of-place humor hinders plot development and distracts the audience from the complex situations that characters face.
Furthermore, the series bears an uncanny resemblance to the original Star Trek. While it is a tribute, fans were disappointed when it blatantly copied the beloved franchise. In fact, the showrunners lazily input new names in an essentially Star Trek universe: they erased Captain Kirk and wrote in Ed Mercer, and replaced the Enterprise with the Orville. In both worlds, the captains are protagonists of the story who were practically destined to lead a successful ship. Nonetheless, Commander Mercer does not capture the essence of a quintessential leader as Captain Kirk did in the early series.
In a worst-case scenario, The Orville borrows ideas from other iconic sci-fi movies. Specifically, the pilot episode features the ship U.S.S. Orville in a lengthy scene that reminiscences the time when the Millennium Falcon flew over the screen in Star Wars: A New Hope. This moment not only unnecessarily prolongs the plot, but also curtails MacFarlane’s comedic abilities, as it wastes precious screen time when Mercer and his friends could have made timely and memorable jokes. By replicating these prominent franchises, The Orville diminishes its charm and inventiveness that fans crave.
Inevitably, the lack of individuality is the downfall of the show. Instead of boasting his notoriously provocative yet funny jokes that fans have come to love or creating his own universe, MacFarlane not only disappoints avid “Trekkies” who take pride in the ingenuity of Star Trek, but also establishes a cliche and uninteresting plot line that bores viewers.
Perhaps because The Orville’s running man himself is an avid “Trekkie,” the show limited its plot to the following: a hero in trouble, or a hero at his best. As a matter of fact, the story begins as Mercer receives a well-respected position then intercepts an evil alien’s plan in order to save his crew. This plot undeniably sounds like Captain Kirk’s missions in space during the 23rd century. Subsequently, The Orville is reduced to a Star Trek fan film that only aspires to match the original series.
On the other hand, some may love that optimistic and sincere mood that reflects Star Trek’s beginnings, before special effects and violence dominated Hollywood films. In addition, U.S.S. Orville seems more like an office instead of a serious spaceship; the crew members openly gossip about Mercer and Grayson’s tensions and joke around with each other. This clearly relates with the viewers who may share similar relationships with coworkers.
Nevertheless, these factors are also the show’s weakness. The Orville perhaps is too genuine; it tries too hard to please the Star Trek gods. As a result, MacFarlane limited his creativity and presented a show that is too meek even for his sentimental self. His newfound unoriginality discourages new and old fans from watching The Orville and his future works by creating an unnatural mixture of comedy and drama.
The Orville may have good intentions, but eventually upsets the audience because of its second-rate comedy and unoriginal ideas. MacFarlane may be living out his childhood dream as the hero “Captain Kirk,” but he should be living in his unique universe as his own hero “Captain .”