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‘The Orville’ Launches on an Uneven Shakedown Cruise
September 10, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Sometimes stupid humor makes a cool and endearing point. Sometimes in the new Fox series, The Orville, stupid humor doesn’t feel like it’s going much of anywhere.  

The Orville, a satiric dramedy about a spaceship that very deliberately will remind viewers of Star Trek, zooms onto your TV screen Sunday at 8 p.m. ET (or whenever the football game ends).

Call it the opener of the broadcast networks’ fall season and Fox is giving it a big push for the next two Sundays before it moves to its regular Thursday night timeslot.

The Orville is the latest brainchild of Seth MacFarlane (top), who also stars as Ed Mercer, captain of the spaceship for which the show is titled.  

The Orville pays more homage to Star Trek than Rachael Ray pays to extra-virgin olive oil. Beyond being set in a spaceship with multiple intra-cabin dramas and constant threats from alien forces, the filming itself has a 1960s look.

That’s not a terrible thing. In fact, it’s fascinating when you first see it.

Trouble is, the fascination fades – and not just for the visuals. It’s unclear whether the whole show has enough substance to keep drawing viewers outside the core MacFarlane and Trekkie orbits.  

The central drama, at least upfront, revolves around Ed’s relationship with his ex-wife Kelly (Adrianne Palicki, right).

Ed came home one night and found her in bed with an alien. Dude, that hurts, right?

Now it’s a year later, and while Ed still hasn’t quite recovered from Kelly, he’s gotten the professional opportunity for which he’s been training his whole working life. He’s been offered the command of The Orville, flying for Planetary Union Central.

He’s dancing with delight until he finds out that his second-in-command will be, yup, Kelly. The boss, played by Victor Garber, explains that she’s the only qualified candidate available.

Needless to say, this makes conversation a little awkward in the ship’s control room.   

Being that this is a Seth MacFarlane production, the tension is frequently cut with goofy remarks, psychologically significant asides, verbal slapstick and oddball characters like Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes, top), Ed’s best friend and now The Orville’s helmsman.

Gordon is a great helmsman who has some quirky habits like beer for breakfast.

Much of the chat in the first episode keeps coming back to marital issues, sometimes between Ed and Kelly and sometimes among the crew.

Oh yes, the crew. It includes several aliens from various planets, including Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), a precocious security officer with exceptional strength; Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), from a single-gender race; and Isaac, a human-like machine who thinks real humans are inferior.

We will also see a lot of Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), a brilliant scientist who works with The Orville on its various missions.

Collectively, they comprise a perfectly acceptable non-traditional TV nuclear family. Their dry and zany interactions, however, might not be enough to create compelling weekly drama.

It may help that judging from the first episode, The Orville will also have a procedural element, wherein our gallant crew will face and ultimately overcome various bad aliens.

Specifically in the first episode, that means a band of Krill who try to steal a machine that accelerates time. Since the weaponizing possibilities for such a machine would make it highly dangerous in evil hands, keeping it away from the Krill is necessary to save the universe.

We can all applaud that mission, and The Orville, like all MacFarlane projects, has a nice droll style and a lively pace. It just isn’t clear how far Ed, Kelly, and a loving Star Trek homage can take it.

Infinity and beyond, in this case, may be stretching it.

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