Why is The Orville so good?

OK, I’m late to this party, but I only recently got access to be able to watch The Orville - and it has greatly surpassed the expectations I had formed about it.

Open spoilers in this thread. I hope that’s OK…

All I knew about this series in advance was that it was in some ways a comedy spoof or parody of the weekly starship genre (most notably the Star Trek franchise) and that it shares some creative and artistic DNA with Star Trek.

I guess I was expecting something where the comedy was front and centre - except that sort of thing can get really tiresome if it is done with a heavy hand.
What surprised me is how real the character writing and performance comes across. Sure, there are moments when each of the characters are ridiculous or predictable, but I was surprised how deep they were prepared to go into some fairly heavy topics, from a platform that also contains occasional slapstick comedy.

As a bit of a Trek fan, I think I have to say that The Orville has the heart that seems to be often lacking in the Star Trek franchise.

I think it’s good because it successfully emulates much of the tone and style from Star Trek TNG that had been lacking since Star Trek Enterprise (or even before). And I think lots and lots of fans (including myself) really missed that tone and style, and maybe didn’t quite realize how much until we saw The Orville.

Lower Decks also captures this, with even more/better comedy, IMO. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.

People have said before, Star Trek Discovery was written by the suits, and The Orville was written by Star Trek fans.

It really comes down to the tone, even more than the writing. The Orville was written by people that LOVE Star Trek, and are not laughing AT it so much as WITH it.

Sure, it relied too much on bathroom humor at times, especially the early episodes. But it had a heart. It respected its source material, AND had good writers who could make a compelling story. There are episodes as good as anything in Next Gen.

I’d put The Road Not Taken up against The Best of Both Worlds any day.

Remember Quark? Of course not, no one does. But it tried to be a straight parody show. It was all parody and no heart. It wasn’t without its funny bits, but it couldn’t sustain it when every episode was a broad joke of something else. It died after 8 episodes.

The Orville is not Quark.

I would go so far as to say that The Orville is not a parody at all. It’s just an attempt to recreate a show from the '90s with some additional jokes. And I can’t fault the writers of Enterprise or Discovery for not wanted to do “more of the same”.

Personally, I like The Orville as a TNG clone but I find the comedy bits pretty tepid (and maybe that’s appropriate because I found the comedy bits on TNG to be pretty tepid, too).

Definitely. When I first saw that MacFarlane was doing the show, I was sure it was going to be purely comedy and parody; I wasn’t expecting it to be as “straight” overall, or a TNG homage, as it wound up being.

And, I agree, the show works best, at least for me, when it’s just trying to be a sci-fi show. (I’m just not a big fan of MacFarlane’s comedy sensibilities overall, so that is likely why I feel that way.)

Disco seems more written by Archive Of Our Own-types—and loved by them.

So, I don’t actually think The Orville is very good. I think the comedy mostly isn’t very funny, the drama isn’t particularly engaging, and the sci-fi elements aren’t interesting. It struck me as the show a bunch of sitcom writers who remember liking Star Trek: TOS and TNG when they were in college but aren’t really fans would write. Which I think is exactly what it is.


I agree that it has heart. It wants to be a fun sci-fi show. And it is genuinely optimistic and humanistic. Which is a pretty big departure from the grim slog of gritty reboots and revisionist takes that had completely taken over the genre.

And so, I found myself watching it, week after week. Even eagerly anticipating it. Even though I really didn’t think it was very good. Because I really wanted genuinely optimistic and fun sci-fi. Kind of like how, back in the 80s and 90s, I watched a lot of objectively terrible sci-fi on TV, because there was so little of it, I’d watch just about anything.

Now, Lower Decks, that’s a show I consider genuinely good.

I think just everything about it confounded my expectations; Captain Mercer is introduced as not really anyone’s choice for the role, and yet, instead of that just being a setup for endless jokes about his competence, we get to see him grow as he faces different challenges.

Yaphit seems like an obvious comic plant, and there’s plenty of this, but we see him overcome fear and exhibit outstanding bravery.

I just got as far as the episode where Malloy falls in love with the simulation of a long-dead woman. Pretty certain I’ve seen that story, or something like it, done before at least on STTNG, possibly elsewhere and it was just weird and awkward. The Orville episode went in a completely different direction and sort of brought a little lump to my throat.

Lower Decks is good I think mostly because it’s meta. It’s like a very well observed commentary on all the ways STTNG is a bit badly written (or flawed in concept)

I think that’s part of what it’s doing. It actually directly or indirectly comments on TOS and TAS and DS9 and other areas of the franchise as well. But the writers doing that commenting obviously love those shows. @Just_Asking_Questions wrote that The Orville is not laughing AT Star Trek so much as WITH it. I think that’s much more true of Lower Decks.

And beyond that, they’ve managed several episodes that are just really solid as straight Star Trek episodes. I personally find LD Pakleds kind of cringey, but other than that, I’d put “wej Duj” just as a straight forward Star Trek episode with the best of TOS or TNG or DS9, and better than any episode of Enterprise or Discovery.

In contrast, I personally don’t think any episode of The Orville approaches the heights of the best episodes of TOS or TNG or DS9.

My understanding is that McFarlane is a massive Trek fan. His goal was to make a legit science fiction show. Because it’s coming from him it’s going to have goofy humor, like bridge officers insisting that they are allowed to bring beverages onto the bridge, but the he manages to make the humor fit into the show rather than shoehorned in to make it a comedy.

I think that’s one of the things that makes it so good. The humor is organic and comes from characters acting like real people. And it’s weaved into everything rather than taking away from it.

The biggest surprise to me watching the show was that the people who made it cared. Just as @gdave said, it has heart. I know that term is often a cliché but in this case it is true. The alien species aren’t goofy site gags; they have as much culture and substance as a species in Star Trek. The technology has purpose and looks cool. The stories are thoughtful and characters are three dimensional.

As an example, Captain Mercer has his ex-wife as his XO. Haha, funny pun, hey-o! Except it’s not portrayed that way. It’s complex; there is a tension between them and yet they are very supportive. And all of the complications you’d expect in a situation like that are thoroughly explored; jealousy, betrayal, but they also awkwardly love each other while also trying to be professional. The whole show could revolve around something like that and yet that’s just one of many very thoughtful storylines concurrently developed over the course of the show.

By the time I finished the first season it occurred to me that this was the probably the least likely show to be so good in the way that it is. It’s a Seth McFarlane show on Fox that was advertised as a Star Trek parody. Instead it is (to me at least) one of the best and most interesting science fiction shows I’ve seen in a long time. I also love the world they created, and I’d be interested in video games and/or tabletop games based in that universe. I am a fan of the show as I am a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, etc.

Little details like that made it kind of relatable to me - it’s a workplace, and not only are the people there doing work, they are also a pain in the butt with all of their non-work stuff and ideas and behaviours - I mean, I used to get people who didn’t see why I didn’t want them bringing food and drink into my server room (while it was obvious to me why they shouldn’t)

Agreed. I think one other aspect that helps The Orville, is that, unlike ST: Discovery (and the JJ Abrams films), it is not set in the Star Trek universe. Discovery turned me off (like that Abrams movies) by changing aspects of a “known” universe/history.
The Orville doesn’t have to trample on any of this known universe because it is in its own.

I think another aspect of what makes this good, is that Our Heroes don’t always win. There have been several episodes (like the Moclan baby episode) in which the crew were on the “right” side (from the point of view of the audience), but the resolution of the episode went the other way.

And those failures have consequences, that they have to deal with in later episodes.

All of that makes it feel more “real”, and also means that when they do win, we enjoy it all the more, because we’re never sure if they’re going to win.

One thing that made The Orville good, at least for the first two seasons, was that it was on a broadcast network unlike all of the current Star Trek series, which were all, I think, on CBS All Access.

Now The Orville is going to be on Hulu, but at least that’s a streaming service I already subscribe to.

I stopped watching because I was hoping that someone would punch Seth McFarlane’s face in every episode and it did not happen. Shame, without him, I think I would enjoy the show.

I know a lot of posters have mentioned ‘heart’ but I’d disagree somewhat.

My own take is that the show works because it recaptures the concept of a hopeful future. Battlestar Galactica (and maybe DS9 to a smaller extent) and most of the new Trek shows have all these 21st century grimdark elements that get tiresome. Maybe 9/11 was largely responsible but as a society we went very pessimistic and that got reflected in our fiction.

The galaxy in The Orville isn’t a perfect place. There’s still warfare and prejudice and people still die. The bad guys sometimes win. Etc. But the Federation stand-in (the League? Union?) is generally staffed with dedicated people genuinely interested in exploration and knowledge and doing the right thing. And they have problems and find solutions that don’t always involve violence or confrontation or compromising their ethics.

There’s rarely a sense that things will usually end poorly or as a result of sacrifice. Instead, there’s a sense that, despite some setbacks, we’ll generally develop and advance to fulfill our potential.

It’s a vision of humanity’s future that isn’t pessimistic, and we’ve been missing that in more recent SF. It’s a breath of fresh air.

There are theories online that the Fox suits would only approve the show if they included those comedic bits to market it as a Trek parody. That doesn’t sounds totally unreasonable.

They have toned a lot of that stuff down since the beginning - especially in the 2nd season as it became obvious not every episode needs to be Family Guy in Space.

And as a result, Fox stopped carrying it.

Proving once again Fox is the worst network.

I don’t think that’s going far at all. I think it’s obviously true.

A parody makes fun of the type of story it is parodying. If you were to parody the buddy cop drama, you’d make fun of specific tropes of that kind of drama - you’d have the main character, say, go through three or four new partners an episode, all of whom are a week from retirement and all of whom die. If you’re making a parody of a superhero movie you’d play up the backstory angle to stupid degrees, to the point you’re clearly making fun of the very concept of backstories.

“The Orville” NEVER makes fun of the concept of episodic sci-fi. It has jokes, but all the jokes are about characters and situations within the story. The sci fi universe it inhabits, it takes seriously.

Lower Decks is better than The Orville, I’d agree. I felt The Orville fell down a bit in the last part of Season 2; the Kaylon War thing was boring. Still, The Orville is fun to watch most of the time and I think it could get better; I have zero expectation Discovery or Picard could ever be better.