My wife and I just finished up watching the first season of The Orville, and overall… it’s pretty good! Unlike Star Trek: Discovery, Seth MacFarlane’s love letter to Next Gen era Trek doesn’t try to push the formula into brave new worlds, but it is consistently fun, intermittently funny, and occasionally poignant throughout it’s initial run. To wrap up my thoughts on the first season, here are three sentence reviews of each of it’s 12 episodes, without going back and watching them at all, because that’s how I roll… apparently.
1. Old Wounds
The Orville ships out with MacFarlane’s Captain Ed Mercer in command and XO/Ex-Wife Kelly, portrayed fantastically by Adrianne Palicki, at his side. The ship, aliens, and costumes all look fantastic from the jump, and the crew introductions provide some genuine laughs (and a few groans). Everything seems to work okay, except for the love/hate dynamic between the Captain and First Officer.
2. Command Performance
Oh look, a whole episode about the love/hate dynamic between Ed and Kelly! It seems like if this is going to be focus, we need to see them handle this like adults, instead of making jokes about workplace harassment. Ed’s interaction with his parents about his prostate is everything that is wrong with the comedy in this show, but seeing a crew member from an all male species hatch a daughter brings a lot of heart and is super intriguing.
3. About a Girl
The crew wrestles with how to deal with Second-Officer Bortus’ (Peter Macon) daughter, in an interesting parallel to current conversations about gender politics. It’s nice to see the court room drama trope come in to play, since that’s such a staple of Trek, but the surprise arrival of another female Moclan is dampened by having her exhibit stereotypically feminine physical qualities. The ending judgement has the society standing up for their societal norms, and enforcing a male gender on the female-born baby, reflecting the grossness of allowing a state’s rights to override an individual’s.
4. If the Stars Should Appear
An awesome exploration of the trope of a society that doesn’t realize that they are living on a spacecraft, and not a planet. The reveals throughout are cool, and Liam Neeson’s cameo is pretty fun. The B-Story about Bortus trying to figure out how to deal with his duties and a newly grown family is an interesting exploration of life on a starship, but portraying his partner as a bit of a nag felt cheap.
playing on the con-man as time traveler trope seen in “A Matter of Time”, Charlize Theron flips the script by actually being both. Seeing the captain fall so quickly and completely under her spell made me miss the more reserved commanding officers of the Federation. Watching Ed’s best friend and helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) try to teach the robotic Data-stand-in, Isaac (Mark Jackson), the art of the practical joke was phenomenal.
What if some of our crew members had to go undercover as members of our greatest enemies? It’s another pretty on the nose trope, but the comedy seems to be really hitting a stride here, especially with Malloy. The mass-murder ending took me by surprise, considering how much time was spent letting us get to know the Krill.
7. Majority Rule
Another attempt at true, Trek-style social commentary, this time looking at the value placed in social media’s social currency, especially Reddit’s up and down votes. It’s great to see Lamar get to step in to the spotlight, but a shame that he behaves so obliviously all the time. Ultimately, this episode makes a pretty compelling argument against the idea of the popular vote, which is a weird stance for a fairly liberal show to take with the current POTUS in office.
8. Into the Fold
Penny Johnson Jerald’s Dr. Claire Finn and Isaac, get to take the spotlight in this weeks episode, when a shuttle crashes on a planet with a diseased and cannibalistic populous, leaving Finn’s children in Isaac’s care while she is abducted by an overprotective “savior”. The children and Dr Finn both end up taking up arms against hostiles, giving us an exploration of the morality of self defense. Mostly, though, both watching Finn murder someone and seeing a kid take up a fire arm was just uncomfortable.
9. Cupid’s Dagger
Oh hey, another episode all about the relationship between Kelly and Ed, this time based on the man she had an affair with coming aboard and causing everyone to fall in love. Rob Lowe does a great job filling the Lwaxana Troi role in this romance romp, and is charming to the viewer, even without secreting phermones everywhere. Unfortunately, a lot of the humor and even the resolution for this episode is based way too heavily in date-rape analogies and a complete ignorance of consent, which means nothing really works.
It’s a holodeck-gone-wrong epsisode, except it turns out that it’s done intentionally. I get that we’re having Alara (Halston Sage) literally face her fears, but it seems like this goes well past confrontation to intentional psychological torture. Also, why clowns?
11. New Dimensions
This one started off pretty awesome, with a look at a two dimensional civilization living in a two dimensional reality, but then the Orville ended up being able to just fly through it as a three dimensional ship, for some reason? I feel like letting them slide through without really being impacted limited any interesting explorations. Unless it was trying to be a metaphor for Lamar’s (J. Lee) character development where, I guess, he’s not a dummy anymore and is going to be our Engineer, because Geordi?
12. Mad Idolatry
This is an episode of Voyager, from the main plot conceit, to the timeline not really making sense at all, but it was still super fun. Kelly is a great character, so it was awesome for her to really steal the spotlight, and I liked that the ultimate message wasn’t “Religion is bad because it’s fake”, but was instead “Belief and community are essential, regardless of their origin. Also, it looks like they are finally going to drop the will-they-won’t-they through-line for season two!
And that’s it! Looking back on these episodes, I had more complaints than I expected to, but overall I really did enjoy the series. My big hope for the future is that they’ll spend more time thinking of the impact of the scenarios they set up, a little bit less time on dick and fart jokes (not 100%, but a little), and a lot less time harassing Kelly.
It’s incredible to me that we have both this and Discovery on TV at the same time, and I like what they are both doing for the Sci-Fi genre. Orville, I’ll see you in Season 2!