THE ORVILLE Review: You Can't Have it Both Ways…Or Can You?

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by James Mandell, arbiter of all things sci-fi 

The Orville review

Cool CGI, big derivative music scoring, shiny interiors and costumes that look like everyone is about to get in formation and march down the football field playing an arrangement of the latest Taylor Swift tune. What could go wrong?

The Orville (Fox, Sundays) made its debut last week with Seth MacFarlane doing what he does best – starring Seth – and opening with a pretty funny bit about spousal cheating involving getting caught in bed with a panic-stricken alien. This one is a blue-hue guy who splooshes when scared.

Let’s be sure we understand this is a Star Trek send-up comedy series, meant to, like — disrupt — outer space, that place that’s always been fraught with peril and discovery and drama. And that no one ought to be more qualified to do so than Mr. Family Guy, who looks cute in his marching suit.  The challenge comes from pushing the envelope every which way until it’s something you can’t really put a stamp on.

MacFarlane, the show’s writer, dances around what he seems to want to portray as legit dramatic saga combined with silly pizza party jokes, and illustrates how you really can’t have it both ways. The movie Airplane! is the perfect example of a serious soap opera genre going rogue, leaving us with a permanent cultural joke about gladiators and filling every 20 seconds with another pratfall. That was funny, because funny was what the producers aimed squarely to be.

The problem with The Orville is that it tries to go both ways, dipping its characters in ostensibly real danger, running around to neutralize it, then relaxing back into goofy characterizations to frame the after-jokes that no longer fit with the seriousness of what was just supposed to have happened.

The net result is a show that doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it middling sci-fi drama lurching boldly where lots of others have gone before, or is it cartoon shtick, portraying frat-party humor in the 24th century? Keep an eye on your main screen to see how warped things get.


by James Mandell, arbiter of all things sci-fi

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

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