As I’ve said when asked by folks who know me well, I don’t ‘recommend’ movies and TV shows. At least, not in the same way other reviewers who write about media do. Yes, I’m fine with saying I “recommend” something for viewing, but when I’m asked to, say, list the five shows every Science Fiction and Fantasy fan should be familiar with I tend to clam up on advice of counsel. (Relax. No lawyers were involved.) It’s just that I’ve been around long enough to know that each of us has our own framework and filters we use to determine what’s of value; you’re far more familiar with what you like than I, so I leave those decisions in your capable hands.
Still, I’m often asked, “Do you like _____?” (You can add any show and movie to the blank you wish.)
When I’m evasive, I do remind long-term readers that while I may not be a particular fan of a particular show I’ve still found episodes that are worthy of an enthusiastic thumbs up. That’s because I’m more about character and I’m more about a good story than I am being committed to an individual property; what this means – in the final estimation – is that even the worst movie in history might have something redeeming in it. It may have a good performance. It may have some great production efforts. Or it may even have a good laugh.
Doesn’t the best element of the worst experience deserve a little bit of recognition?
Where I’m going with all of this is simple: I was asked online if I’m looking forward to The Orville returning. As you can guess, I have a not-so-simple answer.
The short skinny?
Well, I’ve never found Seth MacFarlane and his particular brand of humor all that funny. It’s a bit juvenile. It’s a bit easy. It’s often a bit predictable. This isn’t to say that I haven’t laughed at some of what he’s done because that would be untrue. It just that the overall track of his jokes? Well, I think some humorists can do better … and then there’s Seth.
Now, again, I’ve no issue whatsoever with anyone else finding Seth adorable. Humor is a difficult concept, and what makes us laugh separately isn’t always what entertains a crowd. In my mind, Seth goes for a lot of easy jokes – that’s why I said I find him a bit predictable – and putting his train of thought into what’s supposed to centrally be an ‘interesting morality tale’ (i.e. like Star Trek) can be a bit offputting. Again: doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. It can be. It usually is. I’m just not drawn to it.
The long answer?
About 80% of the time, I’ve found The Orville to be a pitch perfect modern ‘interpretation’ of what Star Trek: The Next Generation used to do so very well. (No, folks: I don’t see it in the same terms as classic Trek for a few narrative reasons I’m not going to delve into at this point because it doesn’t matter.) Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and that staff of writers crafted some brilliant hours of television, many of them giving an 80’s and 90’s based cultural examination like no other show of the day did. The Orville has taken that construct and – in many of its better hours – adapted it for an all-new generation of viewers, ones who obviously are not insulted by Seth’s occasional low-brow antics. (Again, peeps, there’s nothing wrong with that; I’m just giving my two cents.)
But The Orville has also worked very hard to create an identity a bit removed from Star Trek as well.
Clearly, the show’s characters are not the squeaky-clean professionals that populated the Enterprise D.
Similarly, Commander Kelly Grayson (played by genre-favorite Adrianne Palicki) shares a reasonable amount of Mercer’s abrasiveness, and that’s no surprise as the two were married (in the show’s expanding backstory). Perhaps because they were too similar, they clashed, suffered a falling out (an act of infidelity on her part), and divorced. But much in the way some couples who part friends, enemies, or frenemies do, they’re still something there – a spark of love, hate, or a mix of the two – that drives them to push one another’s buttons … for better or for worse. She’s prone to quip something as inappropriate as her ex, and yet we’re assured that she’s still one of the best executive officers in the fleet.
As the series’ main duo, they’re quite a pair. Though they don’t constantly bicker, the stories we’ve seen thus far (after two seasons) have put them at odds much of the time. Still, I don’t make too much of their constant back-and-forth because anyone who knows a thing or two about episodic television understands that most shows’ first rule is that there has to be a constructive discussion about the script’s central issue. Naturally, this puts characters on different sides; so it’s easy to conclude that a divorced couple should easily satisfy that framework. I like to think that’s really The Orville’s biggest secret: these two couldn’t serve effectively together if they were married, and that is a bit of genius on show creator MacFarlane’s part.
Well done, sir.
So, yes, it’s great that there’s still a show around that’s somewhat faithful to a construct in storytelling that’s largely credited to the world of Star Trek. God and anyone who’s watched a few hours of Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard know all too well that those folks are off in their own territorial waters doing something they believe is (ahem) truly visionary for (ahem) a new generation of fans. More power to them. As I’ve said, I have no problem with those shows; I just understand that they’re not for me. I’m not a demographic sought in their audience. All well and good. It’s grand that MacFarlane has stepped in to fill that hole.
However, I’m not following The Orville behind a pay wall. At least, not yet.
That decision may change … but, for now, I’m comfortable with it. I just don’t like this current trend in having to finance so many separate streaming platforms. Yes, I realize that’s apparently the way of the future, and that’s why I’ve said my decision could change. But for now I’ll wait for the potential DVD sets.
In the meantime, I may be revisiting some of The Orville’s previously televised episodes for posterity’s sake. It’ll give me a little something something to work on my review skills, to fill some time, and to keep me wishing for the days when treks into the Final Frontier were intended for everyone and not just for viewers who think myopically.