If you’re a fan of any kind of nerdom, then you know that Hollywood has been treating you like a spouse that refuses to shut up and fix ‘em a chicken pot pie. No intellectually property has been left untouched from the cataclysmic black hole of creativity that is modern Hollywood.
Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, DC, and even Marvel (especially phase 4) have all turned to crap. However, almost all of them lose out when compared to how badly Alex Kurtzman has wrecked the Star Trek canon.
What used to be an optimistic look at the future, where problems could be solved with words as often as lasers, and envisioned humanity as rising above the sins of its past, Kurtzman took a look at it and decided… nahhh.
Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, Shorts, and Strange New Worlds (and Lower Decks, depending on who you ask) turned that bright, hopeful future into a bleak, nihilistic murder fest where your heroes all end up miserable and everything you thought was true was secretly bad, wrong, and stupid. It’s as if you got up from the table with your Intertops casino bonus, gave it to your friend to continue playing, who then turned around and used it as kindling to burn the building down.
Thankfully, someone else stepped up- an unexpected mega-fan of the franchise who, when he was refused the rights to the actual show, went on to create “The Orville”: A sort of but not really parody of Star Trek, from the mind of Seth MacFarlane. While MacFarlane is known almost exclusively for his comedic works (Family Guy, Ted, American Dad, A Million Ways to die in the West, etc), it turns out he can handle a serious project too. If the studio lets him, that is.
“The Orville” presents itself as a Star Trek parody. Captain Mercer leads his crew on an exploratory mission into space, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man had gone before, etcetera etcetera. His crew of companions includes his best friend and pilot, Gordon, an overqualified doctor named Claire, an alien Makled named Bortis who will eat anything, an unfeeling robot named Issac, and his first officer Kelly Grayson… who is Mercer’s ex-wife.
Behind The Scenes
The story behind how The Orville came to be is kind of hard to piece together, but here’s how I believe it happened, so far as I know. Take what I’m about to tell you with a grain of salt.
Basically, Seth MacFarlane wanted to create a real Star Trek show, but was turned down for whatever reason. Probably because he’s Seth MacFarlane. (leifrogersmd.com) So he proposed his own show, which he still wanted to play straight, but the studio demanded he make it funny… since he’s Seth MacFarlane.
Why should you care? Mostly because it explains a lot of the familiar Seth MacFarlan humor in a show that also tackles some surprisingly heavy modern issues with a level of nuance you wouldn’t expect from this kind of show. It also explains why, in season 3 when “The Orville” is taken in by a different studio, most of the jokes go out the window for a simple solid season of Star Trek episodes.
If I had to describe “The Orville” in a handful of words, I would describe it as “Star Trek, but Sometimes Funny”. And I mean that as a compliment. If you’re looking for more Star Trek, and Kurtzman’s junk isn’t doing it for you (for obvious reasons), then I cannot recommend “The Orville” more.
Quandaries and Controversies
One of the most pleasant surprises to come out of “The Orville” were the episodes that tackled some real, hard-hitting issues that I haven’t seen any other show even touch on. “The Orville” takes serious subjects, injects that spice of science fiction, and presents its moral black box for the viewer to think about. And I mean real stuff, not space-racism. Stuff like porn addiction, FGM, and transgenderism.
There are two specific episodes that spring to mind. Mild spoiler warning. Basically, Bortis and Makleds are a race made up of entirely males (they lay eggs). However, sometimes a female will be born, and what they do is transition the babies to be male at birth.
The episode becomes a legal battle, with characters arguing for or against whether or not this is okay, and whether or not Captain Mercer and his crew have any right to comment on another culture- even if aspects of it are reprehensible to us, as outsiders. It’s a shockingly dark episode that reflects outward perspectives on horrendous African / Middle Eastern practices, culture clashes, and modern intersectionalism here in the West.
The other episode is a follow-up one, where a Makled character discovers that she was born female, and transitions back into a woman. Again, what makes it so remarkable is how against the grain it is for Hollywood, that otherwise is completely behind these ideologies and actively encourages and bankrolls them.
Of course, it probably got balanced out in the intersectionalist brownie points department by the episode where a populist, xenophobic religious fanatic earns a shocking win in their planet’s democratic system, in a world that has free markets and no abortion.
Yes, it’s an extremely thinly veiled caricature of the unpopular orange man. I just have to say though, that there is this one unintentionally hilarious scene where the alien leader was showing what her society does to women who get abortions, and I thought that they would get disintegrated or something, but no.
It turns out that these aliens create a digital hologram based on the parents’ DNA to create what the child would have looked like, should it have lived, and force the would-be mother to interact with it. Yes, this “evil” planet punishes abortion… through ten minutes of guilt-tripping. Oof, those villains!
If I have to give any major criticism about the show, it’s that sometimes the jokes simply don’t land. Also, if you don’t like Seth MacFarlane style humor, the first season is going to be rough for you. Personally, I don’t mind, but I’m happy he pulled away from that for season 3, and I hope he continues it this way into future seasons.
Also, there’s a character introduced at the beginning of season 3 whose only character traits are that she hates the robot people and she loves Amanda. That’s it. It does pay off in the end, but… whenever she speaks, it’s about one of those things or the other.
The bottom line is that I think most Star Trek fans will love “The Orville”. Honestly, I’m willing to consider it more canon than anything that has recently come out with the official Star Trek name slapped on it. It holds to the optimistic spirit of the franchise, while making crude jokes, yet still respecting the introspective nature of the IP that made Star Trek great in the first place.
I don’t even agree with all the conclusions the show arrives at (that orange man episode, for one), but it handles these ideas with enough nuance and respect that I cannot help but admire it. It’s clear that Seth MacFarlane really is a fan of Star Trek, and that really shines through in “The Orville”. And honestly, I can’t think of a higher praise than that.