Review: The Orville

My standard policy on TV shows is to give them three episodes… unless they do something to really drop the ball, and / or piss me off.

The Orville has had more than that.

So, what do I think?

This is … surprisingly awesome.

To some respects, I don’t know what to do with this one. I know I like it, despite having some strange and off-putting behavior in the first three episodes.

The Orville opens with Ed Mercer (played by writer / producer Seth MacFarlane) walking in on his wife (played by Agent of SHIELD’s Adrienne Palicki) with an alien in their bed. Given the writer, I expected a gag. A joke. Something over the top and insane…Mercer turns around, gets in his vehicle, and flies off. It strikes me as being fairly realistic. It’s the first of many moments where one doesn’t know if the show is a drama or comedy.

The next scene is a year later. Mercer’s career has been derailed ever since the affair. But, hey, they’ve got an expanding fleet, they need captains, here’s your ship, don’t screw it up. I was expecting it to be a variation on Ringo’s A Ship Called Francis. But … nope.

Then his ex-wife becomes his second in command. (Does that makes her his Ex-O? …. Yes, I’m sorry. But the joke was right there).

There’s also an interesting, colorful cast. Junior security officer Alara (Halston Sage) is this tiny little slip of a thing … from a heavy gravity world, so she hits above her weight class. There’s an all-male species, a cyberman, and a sarcastic chief medical officer who might be out of the McCoy school of medicine (played by 24 and Deep Space 9‘s Penny Johnson Gerald). And a pilot who seems to have some bad frat boy habits.

We get halfway through the first episode, and it looks like simple set up, and ha ha, this is going to be funny / awkward… Then their first mission, a milk run, turns into a running shootout. Talk about narrative whiplash. We have some funny humor (including an alien that looks like Schlock), one awkward moment that I don’t think is supposed to be funny, and then we’re in the middle of a run and gun?

The solution to the action bits are actually quite well executed, as well as entertaining, and, dare I say it, even intelligent.

End of episode one, we get the sense that we might have a cliche that I don’t see too often: “Your ex still loves you.”  Huh? Really? Is there a Catholic on the writing staff?

Episode two just opens with one of the most awkward sequences I’ve seen in a while… and then it becomes an actual episode. Wait, we’re straight to the plot? The episode leaves Alara to do the captain’s job. It’s mostly a straight-faced episode. Things that could be played for laughs, aren’t. The plot of the episode is Rod Serling (People are the Same All Over). The solution is both innovative and hilarious.

I will give the acting a lot of credit here. The drunken pilot is played relatively straight — he’s not a fall down drunk, or doing a drunken “Hic!” every few minutes. Palicki has decided she wants a career, and Agents of SHIELD didn’t provide nearly enough acting range for her.

Then there’s episode 3, which is when they surprised me. The all-male species crewman has … a daughter. Immediately, he demands a procedure to swap her gender. The doctor says “Hell no.” The Captain says, “I’m not ordering the doctor to do anything.” When said crewman calls for a ship from his homeworld, the Captain is pissed for the chain of command being violated.

There is some discussion about trans issues, but while they don’t smother your face in what stance the show wants you to take, it’s very clear that the show has a side. The solution is … very Babylon 5. Captain Kirk can show X species that their culture is wrong, but that doesn’t mean X will be happy and thank him over it.

I was surprised. Seriously, what do they want to do with this show?

The episodes only get better from there, with several episodes being modern takes on Trek episodes, with some serious twists, a double-take cameo of “Wait, is that Liam Neeson–yes it is, what’s he doing here?”, a guest spot by Charlize Theron and… There are two episodes that are … or should be… scary as Hell. One that has a race that is one step short of the thugee from Temple of Doom, and a world that is death-by-Reddit.  If death by social media doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

The biggest drawback to this show is the … humor, I think. I honestly don’t know if they’re supposed to be funny bits of business, or just awkward. The first three episodes had this awkward moment in there that is so narratively jarring, it was hard to get a firm grasp of what this show wants to be when it grows up. The only time we even have a solid musical cue is when they have an action sequence. For that, I will give the music department major props.

Of the seven episodes broadcast thus far, I was surprised by the ending on at least four of them…and even the ones I could see coming, they put a nice spin on the plot to make things interesting.

This show has a lot of promise, and a lot of potential to grow… But it’s a scifi show on Fox, so before we hold out too much hope, let’s see if it lasts long enough to find its footing.

 

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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