Seth MacFarland is a die-hard Star Trek fan and, so, he wanted to make his own Star Trek show with his own lowbrow sense of humor. The result is a pleasant throwback to 90’s era Star Trek: The Next Generation where the future is bright and most of the adventures are wrapped up in an hour. Also, there are wiener jokes.
The Orville was unexpectedly wonderful. It was classic Star Trek when Star Trek itself evolved into something more mature and darker than the old fans were comfortable with and, while I’m digging Star Trek: Discovery‘s take on the final frontier, The Orville is a very nice palate cleanser, a compliment to the more serious tones of modern Trek while being a loving tribute to Trek itself.
But herein lies the problem with this latest season of The Orville… it’s getting darker, less funny, less light-hearted… in some cases, the tone of some episodes are becoming indistinguishable from the more serious adventures of Deep Space Nine or even Discovery.
The latest slew of episodes have seen the Orville get taken over by the robotic Kaylons and getting betrayed by a fellow Kaylon crewmember who predictably, turns against his own people and saves the day. We saw a crew member leave the show after a reunion with her family. We saw an alien race (who are totally not Klingons) come close to tearing the Union apart because of their extremest views against females in their own culture. Granted, these aren’t bad episodes… they were predictable and formulaic, but they weren’t bad.
The problem is that The Orville is losing its sense of humor and losing its own sense of identity because it wants to become something it isn’t supposed to be. It wants to become Star Trek but, in becoming the thing you are supposed to be a light-hearted tribute to, you lose your lightness and you lose your heart.
There was an episode in the first season called “If the Stars Should Appear” which had the crew find an impossibly huge derelict ship floating in space with a civilization living on board that had no idea that they were on a spaceship. The episode dealt with religious ideology, scientific awakenings, and went to some incredibly dark places… yet it maintained its light tone and humor and became one of the best episodes of the series.
Another first season episode called “About a Girl” saw Bortis and Klyden, two members of the all male Moclan species, give birth to a biologically female baby, a baby that is seen as inferior by the Moclan people. Klyden wants to surgically alter the baby to become male while Bortis is against it. Again, it was a heavy episode that dealt with actual issues translated through the lens of science fiction and it had an ending that was pretty heartbreaking, but it still kept its light tone and humor.
This season, the humor and light tone are starting to vanish as The Orville, for some reason or another, has decided that it wants to take itself more seriously. The threats are getting more deadly, the politics are becoming murkier, and the situations are played mostly straight and humorless. The Orville, a shameless homage to Star Trek is quickly becoming the unknowingly worst Star Trek spinoff.
The thing that made The Orville fresh and fun is the element that is quickly becoming excised in favor of more serious plotting, but the problem is that the more serious plotting feels 25 years old as it is still playing by The Next Generation‘s rules. The show no longer feels like something new and exciting, it feels like something that’s been done and been done better.
There are moments that The Orville brings in the comedy and seems to come back to life again. The most recent episode saw an alien civil rights leader become enamored with the works of Earth poet, Dolly Parton. The civil rights leader references 9 to 5 during a speech to members of the Union and the song plays during a space battle. It’s brilliant… and tragic because the rest of the episode is played straight.
I enjoyed the fact that The Orville was a little crude and lowbrow. I enjoyed the goofiness and the silly tone and now that the show seems to be shedding that, it’s losing what made it special in the first place which is a real shame.
I’ll be watching The Orville regardless because I genuinely like the show, but I wish it would remember where it came from and not continue to try and shove itself into a role it’s not suited or qualified for.