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Seth MacFarlane Launches Previews of Pricey New Fox Sci-Fi Series 'The Orville' at TCA
August 9, 2017  | By Ed Bark  | 1 comment

Beverly Hills, CA -- Fox is giving Seth MacFarlane a big budget and lots of space to launch The Orville.

The Family Guy creator, who also acts, hosts, croons, voices cartoon characters and directs feature films, is getting by far his most visible TV role as problematic spacecraft captain Ed Mercer, who's told at the outset that he's "nobody's first choice for this job."

The one-hour intergalactic series, in which MacFarlane also is the principal off-camera force, premieres on Sunday, Sept. 10 amid both great expectations from Fox and serious questions about whether viewers will embrace its on/off mix of drama and comedy.

Three episodes made available for preview suggest that MacFarlane is still struggling with "tone," which frequently came up during Tuesday's late afternoon interview session. Fox promos for the series, set 400 years into the future, accentuate the comedic aspects of life -- and the various life forms -- aboard The Orville.

MacFarlane, who was joined by an assortment of 11 other cast and crew members, said he's OK with the network's positioning of the series, but emphasized that its amusements are just "one piece of a larger geometric shape."

His overriding objective with The Orville is to revisit the "forward-thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science-fiction that (the original) Star Trek used to occupy . . . It can't all be The Hunger Games. It can't all be the nightmare scenario. I think there's some space for the aspirational blueprint of what we could do if we get our sh*t together. That's something that's been missing for me for a while."

It's not all sunshine and lollipops, though. Episode 3 is built rather too earnestly around a gender mutilation storyline involving a newly delivered baby by Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), a male alien who first hatches an egg. Episode 2 is somewhat more comedic, with Mercer and his ex-wife turned new First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrienne Palicki from Friday Night Lights) suddenly disappearing after being taken captive by a band of miniature aliens. Their eventual freedom is obtained via a trade whose revelation supplies a closing gag.

MacFarlane said the hour-long format requires that the story line come first. "It can't just be gag, gag, gag, gag. There has to be some reality to where the comedy comes from . . . There really isn't anything that exists in the Spaceballs or Family Guy realm. We allow ourselves room for levity in ways that a traditional hour-long sci fi show doesn't. So we're trying to break some new ground here."

They also risk breaking the bank if all of this doesn't work out. On the day before the panel session, TV critics were taken on a tour of The Orville set. Built on the 20th Century Fox studio lot, it's an imposing, two-story structure replete with gadgets, a panoramic view from The Bridge and a substantial winding staircase to the captain's command center.

An in-house costume designer, who only wears his own outfits once, boasted that an array of brand new alien wardrobes are used for each episode, and that his rare custom fabric is imported in ream upon ream from China. Episodes are close-ended rather than serialized in structure, which in most cases calls for a new alien race each week. Fox so far has ordered 13 hours.

MacFarlane, who previously produced a multi-episode Cosmos reboot for Fox, said that series helped him to discover how to "do really high-end, really beautiful visual work on a TV budget." Not that any of this is cheap.

Scott Grimes, who plays ship helmsman Gordon Malloy, said "it's really amazing the money that they spent to allow us to experience something that's right there in front of us. You stand at a certain point (on The Bridge) and it looks like you're in space. I've experienced a little bit of motion sickness at times just watching when we go to quantum speed."

Penny Johnson Jerald, cast as the ship's doctor, Claire Finn, said her first visit to The Bridge "was spiritual for me. "I've been on Deep Space Nine and I never had that experience. This was so vast. Looking out into space, I realized, 'Oh my gosh, we can go anywhere.' And that's why we DO go anywhere. We can be funny one week and we can be a little more pensive the next and then we can be adventurous the next week."

After the formal session, MacFarlane acknowledged that the show's title was "not necessarily the most beloved at the network. But at the same time, everybody sort of recognized the oddness of it. It's not called 'Above and Beyond' or something that grandiose."

Titling The Orville was "an oddly snap decision" for him while he read David McCullough's biography of the Wright Brothers, MacFarlane said. "Right at the beginning there was the implication that Wilbur was doing most of the work. So I thought maybe we should be The Orville."

With this series, though, MacFarlane will not have the luxury of under-achieving. Fox's considerable investment in the show may be enough to make a few heads roll if it crash-lands as a contemporary flop in league with NBC's costly, long-ago Supertrain. But for now, it's all systems go for this fall's most uniquely ambitious blast-off.

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Kurt Helf
Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted the "Cosmos" update and did a dammed fine job, too. MacFarlane was a producer for the show.
Aug 11, 2017   |  Reply
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