Seth MacFarlane’s new space comedy may have appeared to be a spoof from its trailers, however from the looks of its initial episodes it may end up being far more.
Where the pilot ‘Old Wounds’ skewed heavily into its comedic leanings to make the characters quickly relatable and quirky in their unique ways, the second episode ‘Command Performance’ uses that to help us invest in their conflict and danger. In fact, the second episode spends a vast majority of its runtime foregoing the expected comedy, delivering instead an almost conventional Star Trek plot with rare splashes of humour thrown into good effect.
Opening with the mundanity of a relationship and then delving right into the silly, it draws the audience in with its conventionally flawed characters who less resemble the polished statesmen we’re used to seeing on Star Trek type shows. These are people with fragile egos, prone to snippy, childish comebacks and almost all of them have baggage clouding their nobler goals. The bridge of The Orville is so far the entire main cast, with the exception of the ship’s physician who is also established, and it’s fair to say there’s a fair distribution of archetypes to latch on to. The chemistry is immediately evident, with several of Seth’s collaborators from his animated shows getting live-action roles here to aid that, along with established TV presences such as Adrianne Palicki and Penny Johnson Jerald. You have a fair selection of characters if you’re looking for one to latch onto and so far they all mesh comedically and clash dramatically to good effect.
The humour and its pacing is more reminiscent of Seth’s movies than his animated shows, so if you liked Ted you’ll probably get a lot out of this, with plenty of serious conversations and moments devolving quickly into funny tangents and asides. The first episode, in particular, has a near-constant run of funny jokes amid the intrepid setting and gives a good indication that Seth’s brand of comedy can work well in this environment. There are several moments you could see happening in a conventional space series, only these are punctuated with his brand of humour without devolving into a farce and that balancing act stands the show in good stead going into its second outing.
The action scenes of the first episode aren’t quite as strong as the comedy, with some slight moments where the space physics and shoot-outs seem to bend their own rules, however, it’s nowhere near a deal-breaker. In fact, the stilted shoot-outs are more reminiscent of the Star Trek of old and may even be an homage, but it never fails to cause a slight kink in the enjoyment when someone stops running to fire their blaster when continuing to sprint would surely be a lot smarter. Another homage, this one definitely intentional, is the tension hooks before fading out to each commercial break rather than hitting a punchline. This is decidedly reminiscent of Star Trek and shows the reverence for its main inspiration, helping The Orville capture a certain feel quite near that from which it draws.
Picking up in the next episode from where they left off in the pilot, the crew of The Orville come upon an interesting but conventional ‘space’ plot in the second episode, and this is where the show seems about to launch into full-blown comedy again. Instead, it gives us a mix-up to the burgeoning dynamics between the characters and even throws moral, ethical and leadership questions at them, all with hardly a laugh for a solid third of the episode. This may not sound like a wise move for a show billed as a comedy, but it works with its shift to really help us invest more in the characters, one in particular.
The show never forgets what it is though, and the main payoffs in both episodes are funny as well as satisfying for these early outings, offering a little social commentary alongside its varied humour to keep you guessing. The second episode even goes on to add a cliffhanger devoid of almost all comedic leanings, delving into one of the established dynamics for its cast that looks likely to give challenging and even thought-provoking viewing, even while offering comedy fodder to help it go down easier.
It feels like we got the two extremes of what this show intends to be. One episode brimming with laughs and quips and the other allowing The Orville the chance to use that comedic base to actually tackle some probing questions as Star Trek did. That is the biggest surprise with the new series, and it’s a welcome one.
With all that said, here’s the quick ‘n’ dirty breakdown.
Who is likely to enjoy The Orville?
People who are looking for some sci-fi goodness – Fans of Seth’s more serialized comedy style in American Dad rather than Family Guy – People wanting something to tide them over until Star Trek Discovery – People looking for a comedy that may tackle some lofty questions in its unique way – If comedy helps you into genres you don’t normally try
Who should stay away? – If you don’t like Seth or his style, this might not change your mind – People looking for only comedy or pure, undiluted sci-fi