TV Review – The Orville
The Star Trek franchise is having a bit of a resurgence. The new series Star Trek: Discovery puts the science-fiction drama back on television after Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air 12 years ago. Until then, the franchise had managed to stay on the air for nearly 20 years without interruption. There was a series of movies in the 12-year gap that helped bolster the new series on CBS All Access, which premiered on September 24. However, this show, created by Seth MacFarlane, is a comedic ode to that franchise, which slightly embraces some of the campiness from the original 1960’s show but maintains the eye of social consciousness and the exploration not just of space but of moral ideas and themes. If not for the occasional joke, it could almost be a serious entry in the Gene Roddenberry oeuvre.
Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy and American Dad!) stars as Ed Mercer, the Captain of the USS Orville, a space ship not unlike the Enterprise with a mission to explore the galaxy. It’s 2418 and Ed takes command of the Orville after a year of being depressed and drunk, which came as a result of his divorce. He’s dumbfounded when the first officer assigned to him is his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson, played by Adrianne Palicki (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Friday Night Lights). It’s awkward at first, which adds a little to the humor, but the two must learn to work together and maybe rekindle things.
Scott Grimes plays Gordon Malloy, a lieutenant and the helmsman. He’s also Ed’s best friend. He’s good at his job, but he’s the kind of guy who likes to drink beer in the morning and be a bit of a jerk. J Lee plays John LaMarr, a lieutenant and the navigator who sits next to Gordon at the front of the bridge. John isn’t as much of a jerk. Instead of a beer, he’ll just drink a soda. So far, their characters have not been fleshed out any further, even after four episodes. Grimes and LaMarr worked on MacFarlane’s hit show The Family Guy, so he probably just threw them in, but future episodes will most likely focus on them. The show has spotlighted other characters better.
Halston Sage plays Alara Kiton, the young chief security officer. She’s a Xelayan, a race with ears like Vulcans and with super strength as well. The second episode focuses on her and tests her metal. She’s nervous about her leadership ability, so the second episode forces her to step up as the leader and see how she handles it. She seeks advice from the chief medical officer, Claire Finn, played by Penny Johnson Jerald who appeared in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
There’s a robot character that seems like he could be an interesting take on robots, but the most interesting and perhaps controversial characters on the show are Bortus, played by Peter Macon, and Klyden, played by Chad L. Coleman. Bortus and Klyden are Moclans, a single-gender race, meaning there are only men, so when they mate, it’s men marrying and sleeping with men.
Given that Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, it’s great to see this TV show furthering that kind of representation, which is sorely lacking in mainstream media.Moonlight depicted same-sex attraction between two African-American men. Both actors here are African-American men, so depicting them as a couple and expressing romantic love in that way is refreshing. Yes, Empire has done so as well, but spreading that kind of representation is important.
However, the third episode challenged if that representation was being mishandled. In that third episode, Bortus and Klyden have a child. Moclans are single gender, which means all children are born as male, but Bortus and Klyden’s child is born a girl. How they handle it is by suggesting that Claire perform gender reassignment surgery or a sex-change operation, turning their baby from a girl to a boy. Yet, Claire refuses, which starts a debate about sexism, feminism and tangentially transgender issues.
Some critics say that the argument utilized in the episode misses the point of what transgender people want. The episode makes a feminist argument that women are equal to men, but critics say that the argument embraces old stereotypes, which possibly hurt the case in the meta-textual sense. Critics say that the argument should have been to let the child decide what gender it wants to be and then let the child be that, loving him or her. Yet, the episode stresses simply women are as good as men. It doesn’t take a misanthropic position but stresses female power instead of a more gender neutral view.
At the end of the episode, Ed finds a Moclan named Heveena who is the only female Moclan. Heveena testifies as being happy about who she is despite the gender norms that everyone wants to put on her. Bortus eventually agrees that imposing gender norms on his child is wrong, even though Klyden disagrees. Those points are not minor, and I appreciated this series for those points.
The fourth episode takes on the issue of religion versus science. It might not be anything groundbreaking. It certainly feels like an episode that Roddenberry’s writers could have dreamt up in the 60’s, but given the state of the world, especially under President Trump, it still feels relevant. Overall, the show is a good ode or tribute to Star Trek.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 9PM on FOX.