There aren’t many shows that can offer up as little in the way of realized positives as Seth MacFarlane‘s latest, The Orville, and still seem to be filled with potential. MacFarlane fans, and those expecting the off-the-wall comedy offered up in the trailers, will probably be put off somewhat simply by way of expecting an effort that is attempting a lot more laughs. Sci-Fi fans will likely need a bit of time to figure out what they’re supposed to be watching as the Star Trek knock off will immediately make you wonder exactly what the loopholes in copyright laws are. The pilot is rough, doesn’t have a lot of laughs, and falls into the lazy routine of establishing conversations that are painfully artificial. Still, there’s something about the premise, and the combination of actors and guests, that make this one that could ultimately come together.
The show does kick off by letting you know exactly where this is going to be different from anything you’ve seen before. Ed Mercer (MacFarlane), hopeful starship captain, comes home to find his wife, Kelly (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Adrianne Palicki), in bed with an alien, and while the scene may run into MacFarlane’s goofy humor, it lets us know that we’re diving into the personal lives of the characters. Of course, the driving force of awkward exploration comes when Ed is forced into having Kelly as his second-in-command. We also dive quickly into the level of Star Trek rips that will be part of the show so that we’re comfortable with the setting. Various alien races that are part of the crew look like someone tried to dress up for Halloween but weren’t exactly fans, so they didn’t get the facial ridges in exactly the right place. Mark Jackson voices our robotic life form because he can do a hell of a Brent Spiner impersonation. That sort of thing.
The Orville also sets the stage surprisingly well when it comes to giving us a feel for the comedic opportunities we’ll be looking to exploit during the “action” and “drama”. Our helmsman’s only real concern when it comes to his new commanding officer is whether or not he’ll still be allowed to have drinks while at his station, and his other helmsman has created a holodeck (not sure if we’re allowed to call it that) program that consists of a surprisingly friendly ogre he can do battle with. On seeing a demonstration of a new technology (see trailer) we get “Banana Death Ray” banter. Some bites are pretty funny, many are eye-rollers, but it turns out that this isn’t a show that’s aiming to be the funniest thing on.
The other shoe drops at the end of the pilot, and you may suddenly realize that you’re interested to know what happens with this oddball crew. It turns out to be the sort of effort, at this point, that is rather better thinking back on it than it is as it happens, and that’s largely due to the cast. MacFarlane and Palicki, and it will likely turn out that most especially Scott Grimes, can suck you into these characters if you’re willing to open yourself to the largely silly effort we’re in.
The bottom line is that the show really isn’t very good at this point, but anything that can force you to recognize the potential is doing something right. It’s likely that when the show gets beyond trying to establish things at you it will settle into a different model of comedy, relying more on things like the awkward conversation between Ed’s ex-wife and his best friend, and less on visual gags and buffoonery.
Right now, it’s a screwball laugh that’s worth giving a chance, and it’s either going to capitalize on the idea of having a good time while exploring wacky characters, or it’s going to get lost trying to build plots for the one-liners and sight gags. If it gets the idea of the effort together (probably after a renewal or back-end order), this could easily become the thing to watch for several seasons. If it doesn’t it’s going to become unwatchably stupid.