When The Orville premiered on Fox in the Fall of 2017, the show created by Seth MacFarlane, as well as being produced and starring him, probably had many people groaning. What was the creator behind shows like Family Guy and American Dad doing with a sci-fi show in the vein of Star Trek? Was it supposed to be a parody? Were we supposed to take it seriously?
The first season, despite some problem, produced some thought-provoking episodes such as the one in which Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon), a Moclan, and his partner, Klyden, have a female offspring. The planet of Moclus produces mostly males and is dominated by males even though females are born but it’s a rarity. Moclans are black person humanoids typical of having broad shoulder builds with big ridges in their skulls. Because they’re a species dominated by all-males, they face the difficult decision of what to do with their child, Topa. A council finally concludes Topa has to undergo surgery to become a male much to Bortus’ dismay.
Another episode had them landing on a planet that seemed to be dominated by early 21st Century culture in which the species who look like regular humans judge each other based on small actions as buying their grandchild an ice cream or being pictured where it looks like men refused to give up a seat to a pregnant woman even if they didn’t see the woman. If people reached a certain level of negative feedback, they were sent to punished by a high-tech lobotomy machine that would fry their brain. The episode obviously was a criticism of the belief that we’re too quick to judge people.
The second season picked up and actually got more into the events and structure of the universe. The Orville is part of the Planetery Union, including Earth and many other planets and species. MacFarlane is Capt. Ed Mercer, who seems younger than other captains and has to made difficult decisions for the good of the union.
His first officer is Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), Mercer’s former wife. While the first season dealt with them having to serve on the same ship, the second second and third season has given Grayson better story arcs to flesh out her character. One two-parter looked at how Grayson going back in time to refuse a second date with Mercer actually set into course a series of events that nearly jeopardized the universe.
Rounding out the crew are Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), Mercer’s best friend who is a helmsman. There’s Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), who holds a rank of lieutenant commander and is the chief medical officer. She is involved in a relationship with Isaac (Mark Newton), the science and engineering officer. Isaac is a Kaylon, a race of articifical, non-biological lifeforms who have viewed humans and other lifeforms as inferior. In second two, it’s revealed they have a malevolent intent and killed all other humans on their planet with a campaign to extend this genocide throughout the universe.
John Lamar (J. Lee) is the navigator and later chief engineer and Lt. Cmdr. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) is the chief security officer. She is a Xelayan, which means she looks like a human except from some ridges on her brow and possesses superhuman strength.
The first two seasons were on Fox before MacFarlane reported that he was not satisfied with Fox Network executives and took the show to Hulu with hopes of getting the third season completed by the Fall of 2020. But the Covid pandemic further delayed the season anyway. I think it was just because MacFarlane has grown tired of being associated with Fox. He’s even expressed it in recent interviews.
That being said, on Hulu, the episodes aren’t beholden to the shorter 42-44 minute format, which is good because they don’t feel rushed. So far this season, five episodes have aired and you can clearly see a change in quality for the better. And thus the episodes have taken on bolder plotlines as well with a few Anglo-Saxon words the characters couldn’t say on the Fox network.
The first episodes deals with Isaac being shunned by many crewmembers including the newly assigned Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters). Because he’s a Kaylon, many people distrust him following a lengthy battle between the Union and the Kaylons in the second season that resulted in many deaths, including that of Burke’s friend and fellow crew member. With people stereotyping Isaac and at one point having his work space vandalized with the word “MURDERER” painted on a surface, Isaac commits suicide by setting off an EMP that he has determined won’t have him revived. While Lamar can work on Isaac, guess who is needed to help him? Yes, Burke.
Isaac tells Claire he did it for the morale of the Orville. The crew is surprised that Isaac would technically commit suicide. When he is finally brought back, Isaac and Claire have a heart to heart about the dangers of deactivating yourself, i.e. killing yourself, and it’s effect.
The fourth episode dealt with the Unions treaty with the Krill species following an election where Teleya (Michaela McManus) a rabble rouser and former partner of Mercer’s is elected Supreme Chancellor. Teleya, under the disguise of a human, infilitrated the Orville in the previous seasons and had a relationship with Mercer. Since she was revealed to be a Krill, a reptillian species, she has still expressed feelings for Mercer as well as it is revealed they have an interspecies child. Teleya is angry at what the Krill have done and runs a campaign on breaking the treaty and punishing with death those that signed it. Sound familair to Trump? There’s also a lot of deep fake videos that have been released. Yeah, I’d say MacFarlane is pretty mad at Fox News.
The latest episode brings the issue of Topa back as he is now around the age similar to a young human teenager. Originally portrayed by Blesson Yates in the second season, actress Imani Pullum portrays him now. Topa is struggling with how he feels as a female in the body of a male. And Grayson along with Mercer must discuss whether or not to approve for her to be surgically changed to a female since Bortus approves. But Klyden (Chad Coleman) doesn’t. It’s revealed that Klyden was also born a female before he was changed and is hiding that from people.
With the Union higher-ups afraid of angering the Moclans now that the treaty between the Union and the Krill is no more with the election of Teleya as Supreme Chancellor, they’re worried as enemy tensions are still high with the Kaylons. As Mercer and Grayson note, the Union is letting the Moclan dictate policies. This also raises the issue of when is it permissable to allow religious and culture traditions and when you have to call these into question. A season two episode examined Kylen trying to stab Bortus in his sleep as it was the Moclan’s way of divorce.
While some may criticize this as being “too woke,” it’s no different than the “ripped from the headlines” cop drama shows. Considering that MacFarlane isn’t too well liked because they associate him with Family Guy or the Ted movies, he and his staff aren’t just preaching all the time. The story lines, along with the acting and special effects made for some damn good shows.
Even the original Star Trek series portrayed a society where people got along better. Racism and bigotry wasn’t tolerated. Lives were better as the Federation had done away with money. The Enterprise had a black woman and a Japanese actor, both as officers, which was unheard of in the 1960s where Mickey Rooney was playing an Asian person and they hired Italians to play Indigenous Native Americans. Star Wars, despite what fans think, has always been about inclusion. Calling a show “too woke” is just showing your ignorance.
The Orville takes a look at both sides. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where someone takes a picture of people that’s out of context and it could result in a violent punishment nor do I want to live in a world where one section of people (or a species) gets to make all the rules based on their traditions and cultures. At the same time, The Orville looks at frivulous issues such as advertising where Mercer finds a newspaper from a 21st Century time capsule and he and Grayson criticize it for focusing too much on teeth whitening rather than other issues at the time. It reminds me how George Carlin once criticized Time magazine for making big stories about crack and cocaine but allow tobacco and alcohol sales to run in its publication.
But The Orville isn’t going to be for everyone because the sci-fi/horror elements will instantly turn off people. And of course, MacFarlane will keep some viewers away just by name association. But sci-fi/horror is always about more than what’s at face value. You can make the themes about anything you want. What’s really good about this season on Hulu where the episodes run over an hour and usually average about 70-75 minutes, it’s a throwback to the 1970s when most TV movies (such as Duel and Brian’s Song) were about 70-ish minutes long. It’s like watching small TV movies.
What do you think? Please comment.