Review for The Orville Season 1
I’m starting this review from a position of negativity, maybe even a little annoyance, which I never would have thought to contemplate when it comes to space opera. After all, I cut my teeth on the granddaddy of them all, Star Trek, and faithfully stuck to that franchise long after it was worth sticking with. That might be one reason. Then there is Seth MacFarlane, best known for Family Guy and American Dad, semi-pro Kermit impersonator, and generally not my cup of funny, although I really only noticed him chairing a couple of extras on the Star Trek TNG Blu-rays and appearing in a couple of episodes of Enterprise. No, I’ve decided that today’s irritation comes from Twentieth Century Fox, who some time previously decided that they would no longer release television on Blu-ray. They’ve got this whole ass-backwards idea that HD is for streaming only and collectors can be satisfied with SD. One of the biggest, effects extravaganza shows in recent years, and I’m reviewing the bloody thing on DVD. You can bet that I waited until it was cheaper than streaming to buy the collection. That way, if a Blu-ray does eventually come out, it will feel more like a try-before-you-buy instead of a double dip.
Space opera then; the genre that sees intrepid explorers venturing into the vast expanse of the cosmos, seeking out new life and so forth. 2017 saw the genre return to what passes for television these days in a big way, with Star Trek launching a new show some ten years after Enterprise unceremoniously fizzled out, bringing to an end Rick Berman’s tenure as Mr Star Trek. Star Trek Discovery would come from some of the people behind the Star Trek movie reboot, Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, set ten years prior to the original series. My hackles were raised the moment I learned that the Klingons would get yet another redesign. At the same time, avowed Star Trek fan Seth MacFarlane would make a space opera for a rival network, The Orville, brighter, shinier, more colourful, and more reminiscent of the optimistic anthology allegorical episodic storytelling that Star Trek itself once espoused. But it had Seth MacFarlane behind it, and his sense of humour, and I had my doubts that a series long Star Trek parody could sustain. I kept an eye on a Trek forum I frequent to see how both series were being received, and to my surprise, the veteran Trek fans of old were all watching The Orville.
Anyway, now that both shows hit bargain buckets in the same week, I’m doing a compare and contrast. I had intended to save The Orville for last, but the DVDs came pre-scuffed, so that’s the one I watch first, before the returns window closes. Seriously Fox, Blu-ray! It’s 2019, not 1999!
Four hundred years into the future Earth is part of the Planetary Union, and Ed Mercer is a rising star in the exploratory fleet. That’s until the day he catches his wife cheating on him, and thereafter his career nosedives. A year later, he gets one last chance to salvage his life when he is offered command of the Orville, a mid-level exploratory ship. The one snag is the officer who is assigned as his first officer at the last minute, Kelly Grayson, his ex wife.
The first twelve episodes of The Orville are presented across 4 discs from Twentieth Century Fox.
1. Old Wounds
It doesn’t bode well when the new command team of the Orville are ex husband and wife Ed Mercer and Kelly Grayson. Then again the new helmsman Gordon Malloy has himself been plucked from last chance saloon given his irreverent work attitude. Working out their issues will have to take a back seat though, when their first mission takes a turn. A milk run to a science outpost leads them into a high-stakes battle against a Krill warship over an experiment piece of technology.
2. Command Performance
Second officer Bortus is on leave to sit on an egg, which leaves head of security Alara Kitan in command when Ed and Kelly respond to a distress call from a freighter. She’s inexperienced and uncertain, and suddenly in a whole lot of trouble when the freighter vanishes, and with it the captain and the first officer.
3. About a Girl
Bortus is a Moclan, a race of people with only one, male gender. But his egg just hatched, and he and his partner Klyden are fathers to a bouncing baby girl. In such rare situations, it is Moclan practice to change the baby’s gender but the ship’s doctor Claire Finn is unwilling to compromise her principles, and when the Moclan government demand the child be returned home for the procedure, it compromises Ed Mercer’s principles too.
4. If the Stars Should Appear
Star-mapping may be a boring mission, but things get interesting in a hurry when they detect a giant, city-sized derelict spaceship, on a collision course with a star 6 months away. Only it’s not derelict; the engines may be powerless but for the last 2000 years a civilisation has existed inside, thinking their world is the extent of the universe. They don’t react well to ‘aliens’ claiming to be from outside.
Rescuing the captain of a mining ship crashed on a doomed comet brightens up Captain Mercer’s day, especially when it seems that Pria is more than grateful. It’s the kind of gratitude that might just get under the skin of an ex-wife, but is Kelly Grayson’s suspicion justified as first officer?
Responding to a distress call from a colony under attack by the Krill offers an unexpected opportunity when a Krill shuttle falls into Union hands. So Mercer gets a mission to sneak aboard a Krill warship and steal their holy book, in an attempt to understand why this religious race is so warlike. Infiltrating is easier than they expect, but the assignment takes an urgent tone when they find the Krill are on a secret mission.
7. Majority Rule
Anthropological scientists have gone missing on a planet and the Orville is sent to investigate. This world is much like Earth of the 21st Century, and the landing party’s initial impression is one of nostalgia and curiosity. But when Lamarr missteps, they learn of a curious difference in the world’s justice system, where guilt and innocence is determined by social media likes and dislikes. And now that Lamarr has somehow accrued over a million dislikes, he’s subject to arrest and trial by media.
8. Into the Fold
It’s supposed to be a family fun day out, as Claire Finn takes her two sons to a resort planet, although alien android Isaac isn’t the authority figure she’d have picked to go along. When the shuttle is pulled through a gravitational anomaly and winds up lost 1000 light years away, the fun quickly evaporates; especially after the shuttle crashes on a war ravaged planet where the cannibalistic survivors are plagued by a bio-weapon.
9. Cupid’s Dagger
A couple of species are about to go to war over a contested planet, but there is a chance for peace if the crew of the Orville can mediate, and if a piece of archaeology found on the planet can be used to settle the conflict without bloodshed. They just need a forensic archaeologist to study the artefact. That archaeologist turns out to be Darulio, the guy Ed caught Kelly in bed with a year previously.
Flying through a storm, the Orville takes damage, and when Alara hesitates, a crewman dies in an accident. She starts blaming herself, even asking the Captain to remove her from duty. Then she starts seeing clowns.
11. New Dimensions
Lieutenants Malloy and Lamarr have quickly gained a reputation as the ship’s pranksters, putting all their effort into taking life easy, but Kelly finds that Lamarr has been keeping secrets. When the ship runs into a spatial anomaly, it gives Lamarr the chance to reveal the truth about himself, whether he wants to or not.
12. Mad Idolatry
One of the Planetary Union’s biggest laws prohibits Cultural Contamination, although you usually don’t see the consequences of breaking that law. When the Orville discovers a planet that exists in two universes, where 700 years pass in just 11 days, the get to see the results of Commander Kelly’s misstep, when she helps a child of a primitive race.
The Orville gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic PAL transfer with the speedup that goes with it. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, colours are bright and consistent, and compression isn’t too evident. There is some shimmer on fine detail, and colours don’t exactly pop, but what do you expect from DVD? Imagine Star Trek the Next Generation with modern CGI effects, and you have some idea of how The Orville looks, all bright, primary colours, the ships are bright and shiny, clean and brand new, and the production values are pretty solid. The Orville is a decent design, a ship that looks like a cross between a sneaker and a squid (a squeaker?), but the effects really do sell the show.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 Surround English and German, with subtitles in these languages and French and Dutch. The English is fine, there’s no telltales of pitch correction apparent if it has happened, and the surround brings the music and the action across well, without burying the dialogue. The music suits the show well; certainly the theme works with the space opera genre. The incidental music homages furiously early on, touching on James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith’s Trek scores before finding its own identity a few episodes in.
You get 4 discs in an Amaray case, two overlapping on both inner faces. The inner sleeve has a contents listing for the set. The discs boot to static menus.
Disc 4 has all of the extra features, the most substantial being The Orville at Paleyfest 2018, which runs to 34:34 and has the cast and producers on stage, answering questions about season 1, and looking forward to season 2. Incidentally, the language in this featurette might have earned the collection its 15 rating.
The rest of the featurettes are all bite sized and repetitive.
Inside Look lasts 4:50.
Directed By lasts 1:13
The First Six Missions is an episode recap running to 8:10.
Designing the Future lasts 0:58.
The Orville Takes Flight lasts 1:12.
The Science of the Orville: Quantum Drive lasts 1:53.
The Science of the Orville: Alien Life lasts 2:02.
Crafting Aliens lasts 1:40.
A Better Tomorrow lasts 1:06.
And that’s your lot.
If you didn’t get from the TNG Blu-ray extras that Seth MacFarlane was a big Star Trek fan, then The Orville only underlines that fact, a series which is a love letter to Star Trek, particularly the Next Generation, but paying homage to the whole broadcast television franchise to date. In fact it might actually be useful to not be a full-on hardcore Star Trek fan, as for me, watching the episodes was an exercise in counting the references and remakes among them.
The set-up is nigh on identical, with starships of the Planetary Union on a mission to explore the galaxy, and on occasion deal with bumpy headed threats to the Union. The ships are powered by not-Warp Drive, have bright, shiny bridges, primary coloured uniforms, with multi-ethnic, and multi-species crews. There’s a law against Cultural Contamination (non-Interference), and even an analogue to Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development. The only difference at this point is that no one gets beamed anywhere, unless it’s aliens doing the beaming.
Any Trek fan worth their salt will recognise elements of The Cage, For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, Miri, Bread and Circuses from the original series, The Outcast, Lonely Among Us, The Measure of a Man, The Last Outpost, A Matter of Time, Remember Me, Night Terrors, The Loss, and Who Watches the Watchers from The Next Generation, and Blink of an Eye from Star Trek Voyager. Despite all this, the only moment that really threw me out of an episode was a recycle of a Red Dwarf Rimmer’s directives gag in episode 10.
What the Orville does with all these old Trek ideas and tropes is to give them a contemporary spin which more closely reflects modern society, and gives us a crew which is more like us than it is a gang of ‘perfect’ evolved humans. These are fallible, relatable people, and if the show can feel a little meta at times as a result, it’s not taken to the extremes that might test your suspension of disbelief. Of course the big difference with The Orville is the sense of humour, and the show walks a fine line between humour and parody all through the run, very rarely slipping up.
It is uneven in tone though, especially early on, where some of the jokes tend to break the fourth wall a bit, a show recognising it is essentially a Star Trek remake, and wondering if it should spoof it or not. That Galaxy Quest note really only is apparent in the first few episodes, and then the more obvious comedy is toned down, to be replaced with humour that comes naturally from the characters and the situations. There is also the issue with balancing the level of humour with the seriousness of the story, so some episodes might be laugh riots, while others may just be mildly humorous. But I have to say that The Orville at the end of season 1 wasn’t The Orville that I started watching. That first episode was a show that might run a few episodes before the jokes ran out. By episode 12, this was a show with legs.
The first inkling that The Orville might be special was the third episode, About a Girl. The show introduced second in command Bortus as a Moclan, an all male species. He and his partner Klyden hatched an egg and gave birth to a girl; which turned out to actually be a rare occurrence in their species, immediately rectified by a sex change operation. The story creates a moral quandary about gender identity and societal expectations which can be seen as allegorical in the same way as the best of the Trek episodes. If the Stars Should Appear is the remake of For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, but where Trek would cast Kirk as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, killing a computerised God and force feeding Eve with an apple, If the Stars Should Appear is actually more nuanced, revealing societies can irrationally worship deities without a computerised crutch.
Majority Rule is perhaps the strongest of the episodes in this collection, although probably the one that will date the quickest, exploring a world where social media and popularity are the law, taking one aspect of our society to extremes. The final episode in this collection is perhaps the most Trek-like, but with the most un-Trek message. It too focuses on this show’s equivalent of the non-Interference Directive, when Commander Kelly Grayson accidentally leaves a mark on a primitive society, and winds up being worshiped. This show’s answer is that a society will develop as it will, and momentary interference is just a catalyst, or maybe a trigger that sparks a societal development that would have happened anyway, just with a different excuse.
The Orville is pretty good, certainly better Star Trek than any since Deep Space Nine, although a lot of that sentiment is nostalgia for the old Next Generation episodic storytelling, back when the Star Trek universe was optimistic and promised something better than what we have. Even though the crew of the Orville are very 21st Century in tone, they still represent humanity’s better nature. The humour in the show keeps it feeling fresh and original, although it rather quickly jettisoned the idea that it was an out and out comedy, instead staying on the lighter side of the comedy drama. This is nu-Star Trek pitched at fans of The Trouble with Tribbles (although that original series episode might actually be funnier than The Orville so far). I’m certainly interested in seeing more of the Orville. I just wish I could watch it on Blu-ray.