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Fox's 'The Orville' So Far, is Lost in Space
September 10, 2017  | By Ed Bark

Bitten by Fox’s Cosmos reboot, which he co-produced, Seth MacFarlane creates some space for himself in The Orville.

As Ed Mercer, newly appointed captain of the U.S.S. Orville, his clarion call is “Lt. Molloy, take us out.” Other than that, though, Fox’s The Orville struggles to lift off in the three episodes sent for review.

Its throwaway humor too often belongs in a receptacle while some of the serious business is something of a joke. Although he looks good in his 400-years-into-the-future space getup, MacFarlane is to dramatic acting what Jimmy Fallon has been to tough interviewing.

“We’ll figure it out,” Mercer tells his ex-wife near the close of Sunday’s premiere hour. That also can be said of the entire series, provided there’s enough time. The Orville doesn’t lack for ambition or expense. Nor must it fret about violating any of the often laughably sacred “canon” from previous versions of Star Trek, Star Wars or even Battlestar Galactica. On the contrary, The Orville is completely on its own -- which so far is the problem.

The series begins with Mercer finding his then wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrienne Palicki with MacFarlane, top), in the sack with some sort of space creature. “I’m done,” he says, storming out before being fast-forwarded to “One Year Later.” Having spent much of the interim drinking or otherwise impaired, Mercer learns from an admiral named Halsey (the recurring Victor Garber, left) that “nobody’s first choice” is the beneficiary of a captain shortage that puts him in line to helm one of Planet Union’s 3,000 ships.

Quickly aboard The Orville, Mercer is soon meeting and quizzing his six senior officers. Besides helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), they are Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald); second officer Bortus (Peter Macon); navigator John LaMarr (J Lee); chief security officer Alara Kitan (Halston Sage); and science officer Isaac (Mark Jackson).

Even more specifically, Malloy, Finn and LaMarr are humans. Bortus (left) is a single-gendered Moclan, Kitan a Xelayan and Isaac an “artificial life form” from Kaylon. Oh, and Norm Macdonald pops in very briefly from time to time as the voice of a green gelatinous mass named Yaphit.

Got all that? There’s this, too. The Captain’s ex-, much to his consternation, ends up filling The Orville’s vacant first officer slot. This allows the still very much aggrieved Mercer to jab at her incessantly while she in turn bridles.

The drama in Episode 1 otherwise comes from an enemy force known as The Krill, who covet a newly invented time-accelerating device to no good end. A little off-ship derring do ensues before Malloy attempts to execute the difficult “Hug the Donkey” maneuver as prelude to an even more drastic, life-saving measure. “It’s like threading a needle in a hurricane, but I’ll try,” he says gamely. My pulse congealed rather than quickened.

Episode 2 is a bit better rendered after a lame, intendedly comedic exchange between Mercer and the ever-stern Bortus. Also look for Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor as Mercer’s kvetching parents before another emergency situation kicks in. Let’s just say that while their fates hang in the balance, Mercer and Grayson get closer than they’ve been of late before figuring out just where they are.

The third hour, set to air on Thursday, Sept. 21st after two special Sunday outings, tries to raise big questions about gender determination after Bortus and his mate, Klyden (Chad L. Coleman), have a baby in a way peculiar to Moclans.

This particular storyline kicks in after Mercer, Malloy and LaMarr are first seen in cowboy outfits as part of a Three Amigos-style virtual reality game. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s worse.

MacFarlane’s efforts at dramatic indignation are particularly weak during this hour, which also includes a life-changing experience triggered by a viewing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The Orville needs considerable work to accomplish whatever it wants to be -- assuming that MacFarlane and company even have that answer. For now it’s boldly but very unsteadily going forth, with its jokes working here and there while the action and “messages” bump along at best. It just doesn’t make for much of a blast, but righting the ship isn’t yet out of the question.
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