It's so easy to call something bad: An Arbitrary Review of The Orville S1:Ep1

Note: No writing updates today because it would basically just be "I am working on Hammer Squad. Editing is hard." Instead I'm going to ramble about the new Star Trek show, the one I'm actually excited for.

Just from flitting around Twitter last night, the general tv-watching crowd and the ivory tower critics who cover the medium seem to be leering at each other from across a vast expanse called The Orville. Under heavy, HEAVY promotion, Fox ran the pilot of Seth MacFarlane's new sci-fi vehicle—named after its most prominently featured vehicle—twice last night. There are echoes here of the premier of MacFarlane's original flagship Family Guy. The auspicious Sunday football lead-in, the relatively unique nature of the show for the current network-TV landscape, and the uneven nature of the pilot episode all harken back to our intro to MacFarlane's brand of creativity back in 1999.

But the pilot episode, "Old Wounds", was ravaged by critics before audiences had a chance at it. And taking a stroll over to the show's metacritic page shows a user review average score of more than double the one assigned by critics. And many of the negative reviews read like they can't wait to get in a pithy dig at MacFarlane himself, because he made Family Guy, and I don't know, it's not as good as it used to be. Cutaways are bad, or something. I AM A COMEDY CONSUMER AND I CLEARLY HAVE REFINED, BOUTIQUE TASTES.

But I'm not here to go to bat for Seth. MacFarlane the actor is actually the worst part of cast as it stands. He's just not very emotive, and in an episode that opens with him catching his wife in bed with some blue, forehead-gooping alien, there's room for a tour across a few different moods. Instead, we get schlubby, moderately affable, barely-fazed Captain Ed Mercer who responds to adultery, deadly laser fights, and orchestrating the death of entire starship's worth of enemy combatants with less emotion than the robot sitting to his right. This is MacFarlane's baby, yes, and I can see the through-line of thought where he'd want to have himself sitting in the captain's chair and engaging the quantum thrusters or whatever, but the show would be served with a better fictional captain.

Behind the producer's desk, though, MacFarlane's guidance of the show seems right on. Some of the jokes fell flat, but the upside is that this is very clearly not Family Guy in space. It's more like News Radio in The Next Generation. The pair of helmsmen/weapons officers that sit at the very Trekkie two-man console at the bridge's fore are more concerned about getting out of work on time and if they can have soda at their desk than they are about the alien ship trying to kill them. The second officer is a budget version of Drax the Destroyer and pretty much no one knows how to approach him with any humanity, but he's Assistant to the Regional Manager and is in charge when the Captain and Friends are away, so the rank and file accept his presence and idiosyncrasies. The science officer is a human-hating robot, but again, they're all stuck here working together. Where the show gets its legs and life though, is that beyond that clock-in clock-out texture, The Orvillie IS Star Trek: TGS. It's been beaten up for being a bad parody, but that tact misses the mark entirely. From the camera angles to the sound the doors make to the hard cut to the unexpectedly gruesome and sci-fi spectacle that is the episode's only on-screen death, The Orville goes way past homage and love letter and becomes a show that could have easily been happening in the same on-screen universe as the adventures of Picard and crew. The ships look a little different, and the Federation is the Union, but MacFarlane set out to make a 90's Star Trek show, and he did.

And that's the reason I'm excited for the rest of The Orville's first season. The tagline for the coming episodes preview was "Every week a new adventure!" and we don't really have that right now. Aside from murder-of-the-week police procedural shows, everything that exists with even a hint of drama is serialized and dark and gritty. Of course it's goofy that the senior officers stand at full extension in the middle of an open room with lasers whipping past as they calmly drop chitin-armored baddies with well-placed shots directly to the thickest parts of enemy armor. And it's silly that attractive-Klingon-esque girl Alara (with an "A" and not an "E" I'll point out, endlessly) is super strong and can leap WHOLE FOUNTAINS in a single bound. But I want a show where a too-smooth shuttle lands at an alien research station/Van Nuys office building parking lot and discovers a time-acceleration ray. Because it'll be forgotten about next week when they have to resolve a dispute for space oil fracking rights or something. The Orville is fun enough and light enough that it gets away with campy upbeat adventures. Maybe MacFarlane will put his considerable vocal and stage talent to work and become someone worth watching on camera, or maybe the show he's built around himself will be strong enough to sustain its episodic adventures in spite of it. And I'm glad next week's episode won't have had all of its jokes ruined by the endless previews.

It will be interesting to see how The Orville stands up in the face of an ACTUAL new Star Trek show in a few months, but at least I can watch this one without paying for yet another streaming service.