Review: ‘The Orville’ Pilot An Uneven But Promising Homage To ‘Star Trek’

Goodman things The Orville and Discovery are not rivals

Episode 1 – “Old Wounds”

Written by Seth MacFarlane

Directed by Jon Favreau

Let me make this clear at the outset: The Orville is an unabashed, full-throated love letter to Star Trek. From the opening shot of the first episode, featuring a gleaming futuristic city bathed in sunlight, it is very obvious just what kind of a show this wants to be.

Series creator and star Seth MacFarlane has denied a strong correlation to Gene Roddenberry’s creation, but the similarities are IMPOSSIBLE to miss. The production design, staging, music, and general tone all evoke a feeling of familiarity and nostalgia. Fans of Star Trek, particularly The Next Generation, will find the trappings instantly comfortable.

The show takes place aboard the U.S.S. Orville, a Planetary Union exploratory ship charged with facing “the wonders and dangers of outer space, while also dealing with the problems of everyday life”.

MacFarlane stars as Captain Ed Mercer, with Friday Night Lights’ Adrianne Palicki playing Kelly Grayson, the Orville’s first officer and Mercer’s ex-wife. The cast is rounded out by Scott Grimes, Trek veteran Penny Johnson Jerald, Halston Sage, J Lee, Mark Jackson, and Chad L. Coleman. Grimes’ character, Gordon Malloy, steals almost every scene he’s in, while Alara, a junior security officer played by Halston Sage (seen below), is a character that the show may focus on more in the future.

The first episode does a good job setting up the premise and introducing the characters, all of whom are distinctly different from each other in personality, giving the show a variety of different voices. The Krill, who look like a cross between a Cardassian and Krall from Star Trek Beyond, are the show’s villains. The very Trek-ish plot involves our heroes and the Krill competing for a powerful quantum device that can be used for both good and bad.

While the show definitely nails down the Trek feeling, it’s also very much a Seth MacFarlane vehicle, with the kind of broad humor he is known for.  That sensibility, familiar to anyone who has watched Family GuyAmerican Dad, or Ted, can be off-putting to some, and ultimately I think the show’s success will come down to how appealing that kind of humor is to viewers.

The potential for consistent Trek-like storytelling is definitely there. The show boasts a high Trek pedigree behind the scenes, with Brannon Braga and David Goodman involved as executive producers, Andre Bormanis as a supervising producer/writer, Jonathan Frakes, Robert Duncan McNeill, and James Conway behind the camera, and John Debney providing music.

The Orville attempts to straddle a dramatic and comedic tone, and the results, at least early on, are uneven. It vacillates between the two, often at the drop of a dime, and the transition can feel jarring at times. To be fair, the kind of “situation dramedy” they’re attempting to do has historically been very tricky to pull off, with M*A*S*H probably being the most successful example of it, and even that program needed time to find the right balance. I believe, given enough time, this show will find it.

And I think it will be given that time. Fox is clearly making a strong commitment to this show and its star, pouring a great deal of resources into the visual effects, sets, and makeup. Given that kind of support, not to mention that MacFarlane is a major moneymaker for Fox, I think the show will be allowed enough time to find itself. MacFarlane does too.

Bottom line – The Orville is an amusing and potentially rewarding sci-fi show that Star Trek fans should have a look at.

The Orville premieres on Fox on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8:00 pm eastern, following an NFL doubleheader. The second episode airs the following Sunday at the same time following another NFL doubleheader. It then moves to its regular Thursday time slot on September 21st at 9 pm.

For more on The Orville, check out TrekMovie’s Orville category for all of our coverage.

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