The Orville: the brilliant SF series that surpasses the latest Star Trek

Yes, The Orville is a masterpiece of contemporary science fiction. However, the very first trailer and the beginning of the series suggested a parody of star trek. It is not so: the series signed Seth MacFarlane is a jewel with an exceptional evolution.

It all started as a joke — or so it was. Who could imagine, watching the first trailer for The Orville, in 2017, that this FOX series would turn into a monument of contemporary science fiction? Who would have thought then that this series of Seth MacFarlane would become better than all the recent productions of star trek and of Star Wars reunited or that many other SF works?

Initially, The Orville was indeed sold by FOX as a form of pastiche of star trek. We found a ship exploring the unknown universe, in the company of a crew in colorful suits and an emotionless robot, in the heart of a futuristic utopian society that is no longer guided by money. The resemblance is striking, except that the first episodes of The Orville are filled with gags every moment.

A parody ? Not so fast! In the story of this series, there is a twist. The Orville very quickly became much more than a comedy (and even less a parody), until it established itself as the best in SF. And it’s thanks to the creative team — TV SF veterans with a deep passion for the genre.

The Orville is the name of the spaceship at the heart of the series. // Source: Disney+/Hulu

There is more of star trek in The Orville… only in the new star trek

If Seth MacFarlane became known as the creator of schoolgirl movies Ted and animated sitcom american dadhe is also an avid fan of star trekwhere he made a few cameos in early 2000. And above all, we also owe him the co-production of an absolute masterpiece of popular science: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Cosmos: Possible Worlds. On these two iconic National Geographic documentary series, he collaborated with Brannon Braga…. series producer and screenwriter star trek historical (next generation, Traveletc.).

Many other members of the team of The Orville are from old series star trek and the documentary series Cosmos. Among them, for example, Andre Bormanisboth executive producer and scientific consultant — that is to say, in charge of scientific coherence in the writing of a fiction or a documentary.

The crew aboard the Orville. // Source: Hulu/Disney+

What happened is almost comical. Because, while the new series (Discovery, picard…) and films (those of JJ Abrams) moved away from the state of mind of star trek with new producers, a lot of the franchise’s original team… found themselves collaborating again on The Orville. Results ? Let’s be honest: The Orvilleit is star trek. Better, even, if we compare to current productions. We owe it to an extraordinary development.

Behind the humour, an unexpected depth of writing

The contract between Fox and Seth MacFarlane was to produce a comedy series. So, yes, the first episodes are basically schoolboys. The result is effective, the humor works. That being said, viewers very quickly noticed an unexpected depth in the scenarios: SF exploration, grandiose, human, the likes of which are rarely found on screen. Evidenced by episode 12 (mad idolatry), almost already a classic: during their visit to a planet where a people is in the prehistoric stage, a member of the crew saves the life of a child, in front of other people. As time passes more quickly in this spatiotemporal region, we witness the development of a religion around this character. Same with episode 7, Majority Rule, a planet where each person’s fate is decided by virtual votes.

Then season 2 served as a real transition. Several episodes greatly reduce their dose of gags to make way for more complex writing worthy of the best SF has to offer. The Orville then delivers, even more, touching stories, relationships developed between characters, ethical reflections of a social, scientific, technological nature. The double episode Identityfor example, took everyone by surprise: a huge thrilling SF fresco ending with a long epic space battle with high-flying special effects.

Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) and Bortus (Peter Macon) in season 3 of The Orville. // Source: Hulu/Disney+

It was then recorded: yes, The Orville is funny, but the scripts and character writing keep pace perfectly. We end up with a series of fresh SF, terribly endearing, and formidably intelligent. But the beautiful story of The Orville don’t stop there.

New Horizons: a phenomenal season 3

During the renewal of season 3, it is announced that the series is no longer produced or broadcast by Fox, but by Hulu (an SVOD service available in the United States and partner of Disney+). The budget is further increased for the special effects – absolutely sublime, let’s be clear – and, icing on the cake, the creative freedom is almost total. Seth MacFarlane is no longer constrained to wrap his work in the humorous format.

Season 3 then has 10 episodes, the duration of which makes the world of series pale: most are more than 1 hour… and two of them even exceed 1 hour 20 minutes. Real TV movies. The writers were able to adapt the timing to the needs of the writing. A new era for The Orvillecharacterized by a subtitle: new horizons.

The breathtaking landscapes of The Orville. // Source: Hulu/Disney+

There is also a disturbing evolution in the writing. Episode 1 of season 3 evokes the question of suicide and is devoid of the slightest trait of humor. Same observation story after story, although the humor continues depending on the episode, the tone of the series has radically changed. The jokes are getting rarer — a lot rarer. In a way, one could consider that The Orville has become “serious”, without however departing from a form of freshness.

This season 3 delivers great science fiction stories and ends with a final season to the extraordinary narration: deliberately breaking the show don’t tell, the episode relies on dialogues, without leaving the ship, to reflect on its utopian society – the absence of money or the rule of cultural non-contamination in space exploration (the prohibition to intervene in the course of things on other planets). The episode is brilliant, and even manages to put its own futuristic setting into perspective in a way that older series star trek had never tried.

SF at its best

The existence of The Orville would be almost moving. There is no shortage of good SF series in recent years, of course, but the series piloted by Seth MacFarlane has that little something extra by betting on SF exploration. And, if it takes up old codes, it is not for all that “daddy’s SF”, so much it is modern and in tune with the times – in its quality of production or its subjects tackled.

In fact, The Orville is SF in all its glory, a master class total: the benevolent discovery of otherness, the pleasure of interfering in the unknown, the quest for understanding human relations, the politically piquant look at the present through the futuristic spectrum. It’s also when Lieutenant Malloy – played by Scott Grimes – takes out his acoustic guitar, repeatedly, that we live among the best moments of the series.

Lieutenant Malloy (Scott Grimes) during one of his musical moments in The Orville. // Source: Disney+/Hulu

That a work like this could have been renewed over 3 seasons in an era of ultra production of TV series, and where this type of more human SF is not on the front of the stage in favor of more dark and explicit, is a miracle. The Orville is a survivor series that has never ceased to surprise us. the final season can serve as a conclusion, so many story arcs remain to be explored. A season 4 would extend the beautiful story.

In France, seasons 1 and 2 of The Orville are on Disney+. Season 3 is available on Disney+ in Belgium, and, in France, it will soon be broadcast by WarnerTV before being available on the SVOD service in 2023.

The verdict

The Orville started as a comedy in space, before experiencing one of the most surprising evolutions in the history of TV series. The end of Season 1, and then all of Season 2, infused increasingly mature stories worthy of what SF can do best. This, before the apotheosis in season 3, where each episode is worthy of a small film. Thus The Orville manages to compete and surpass qualitatively a good part of the current productions in science fiction.

The existence of a series of SF emphasizing exploration, benevolence, ethics, science is heartwarming. Especially since The Orville is easy to access, not falling under an SF which would only be addressed to enthusiasts of the genre.

The Orville: the brilliant SF series that surpasses the latest Star Trek