Hit or Sh**: FOX’s THE ORVILLE

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

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A robotic alien confused by the concept of sarcasm. Color-coordinated uniforms in bright colors, time accelerator-rays, and phaser gun fights. Sound like Star Trek yet? Good, it should! Packed with the same innocent wonder of the world around us as the original Star Trek, THE ORVILLE includes as many Trek-minted tropes as it can squeeze into a 44-minute show. From aliens with colorful skin to egg-laying single-sex species to a routine mission that turns out to be anything but, THE ORVILLE’s pilot seems more interested in attracting Trek fans with little homages than in crafting an excellent plot. However, though this makes the events of the pilot predictable, it is equally endearing and enjoyable to watch because it shares the soul-bearing earnestness of the world of Star Trek.

The series begins in the 25th century when Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) finds his wife in bed with a blue alien. Mercer’s next year is difficult as he struggles with the divorce, so he is surprised when he is given command of a ship despite his shoddy performance of late. (A post offered by special guest star Victor Garber!) Everything seems to be turning around for Captain Mercer until his first officer is assigned: his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki). *Hilarity ensues* While THE ORVILLE has appeal for any science fiction fan, it is impossible to separate it from comparisons to Star Trek, as the premise of events on a space navy ship is identical. Additionally, THE ORVILLE seems to be following the style of the original STAR TREK series as an episodic story, making it feel especially analogous. There are hundreds of small similarities in the style of the show, most obviously in the uniforms, which are certainly in the same class as the later Star Trek uniforms. Without a doubt, if the creators of THE ORVILLE had desired to divorce their show from the Star Trek universe, they could easily have changed these things to mark its independence.

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So buckle up, kiddies!

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The inevitable comparison to GALAXY QUEST must be made, as the original Star Trek movie spoof is as beloved as the original series itself, and many would consider it an unofficial part of Star Trek canon. But the difference in format here will prove to be a defining factor for THE ORVILLE. It already displays a slower pace for jokes than GALAXY QUEST, but since THE ORVILLE has 13 episodes to spin out its jokes and premises for parody, there is less pressure to make every single scene a sidesplitting event, as GALAXY QUEST so effortlessly does. Because of this, the pilot is more true sci-fi than parody, but I have total confidence that many of the facts of life on the Orville presented as mere worldbuilding will develop into jokes with much larger payoffs down the line. One such development, introduced in the teaser for the second episode, is second officer Bortus’s decision to procreate, which, as a single-sex species, means that Bortus will be laying an egg with his partner. With his hulking body and intimidating face he is hardly the stereotypical picture of expectant mothers.

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Wrong alien. Right idea.

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Along with Bortus (who sports full head prosthetics, calling back to Lt. Worf of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), the Orville’s crew includes the requisite complement of aliens along with the human crew: Alara, a superstrong 23-year-old alien who is the head of security for the entire ship, and Isaac, a robotic life form of the planet Kaylon, who believes biological life forms are inferior, directly echoing Lt. Data’s statements in THE NEXT GENERATION. Isaac also shares Data’s inability to understand irony or sarcasm, which is sure to lead to some hilarious discussions in future episodes, just as Lt. Data’s quests to understand human behavior initiated the funniest scenes in THE NEXT GENERATION. The crew also features Penny Johnson Jerald as the chief medical officer for the Orville. It’s especially exciting to see Johnson Jerald as a part of the Orville crew, as Johnson Jerald is a Star Trek veteran, appearing in one episode of THE NEXT GENERATION and in a recurring role in STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE as Captain Sisko’s love interest.

Star Trek is for a season. Sass is forever.

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But Johnson Jerald is far from the only Star Trek alum involved in THE ORVILLE. Brannon Braga, writer and producer of THE NEXT GENERATION and VOYAGER, with other scattered writing credits around the Star Trek universe, is executive producer of THE ORVILLE, and directed the third episode of the opening season. Robert Duncan McNeill (Lt. Tom Paris of VOYAGER) and Jonathan Frakes (Lt. Cmdr. Riker of THE NEXT GENERATION) both direct episodes of THE ORVILLE as well. Another notable contributor to THE ORVILLE—though with no past connection to Star Trek—is Jon Favreau, who serves as both executive producer and director of the pilot.

It warms this Trekkie’s heart to see such an appropriate team steering the ship of THE ORVILLE. Their combined experience on multiple iterations of the Star Trek universe inspires confidence in the future of this sister series. It is also a team that clearly loves Star Trek—Seth MacFarlane has discussed this at length—and therefore sci-fi or Star Trek fans can rest easy when watching, secure in the knowledge that THE ORVILLE comes from a place of love and not derision for the most popular sci-fi show of all time. Sitting down to an episode of THE ORVILLE each week is sitting down to celebrate sci-fi and Star Trek, a sweet, brief voyage with a crew that means well in a galaxy where nothing is beyond reach. I, for one, won’t be missing out!

Verdict: Hit

THE ORVILLE airs on Sundays on FOX

Nicole Barraza Keim is a graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts and fervent Trekkie. Her passion is promoting positive change in media by creating content about all types of women kicking ass! To keep up with Nicole’s reviews, follow her on Letterboxd at the link above.

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