'The Orville': Did you watch Seth MacFarlane's space dramedy?

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Penny Johnson Jerald, Mark Jackson, Seth MacFarlane, Peter Macon, Scott Grimes, Adrianne Palicki, J Lee, and Halston Sage in “The Orville.” (Photo: Noah Schutz/FOX)

The Orville premiered Sunday night on Fox. If you watched it, you witnessed the birth of a new genre for the show’s creator, Seth MacFarlane: his first dramedy. At least, that’s how he and other of the show’s producers have been spinning this Star Trek retread in interviews. You may have noticed there weren’t many laughs in an hour-long pilot that seemed to last more like two hours; MacFarlane insists this was intentional. What I noticed even more was that, when there was a punchline, as often as not it was followed by a brief silence, as though MacFarlane and company were giving you time to laugh and hoot and then quiet down to hear the next line. They need not have bothered.

The Orville set up its work-family-in-space premise. MacFarlane is Ed Mercer, captain of the Orville spacecraft. The commander of the ship is his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), whom he caught having sex with an alien near the beginning of the pilot. The ship’s helmsman is Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), a mischievous scamp who serves as both Ed’s pal and a sort of surrogate son. Firm, sensible Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), the chief medical officer, is a sort of parental figure. You get the idea.

Except for Norm Macdonald as the voice of an alien made of what looked like quivering gelatin, I didn’t find much that was amusing about The Orville’s space odyssey. I’m no great Star Trek fan, but I know wholesale borrowing when I see it, and the structure of the show isn’t dissimilar to the much-better sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest from 1999. From its opening scene with Victor Garber assigning Ed his ship to the final, unsuspenseful shootout with alien enemies, The Orville moved from one lull to another. The show certainly isn’t detestable, as so many episodes of Family Guy have been, so I guess that’s a slight sign of creative growth. But I’d be surprised if the show catches on as anything more than a cult favorite among die-hard sci-fi fans.

The Orville will air again Sunday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. on Fox before settling into its regular Thursday at 9 p.m. time slot starting Sept. 21.

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