The Orville

I caught the first half of the first episode of The Orville the other day. It was about what I expected from the trailer. That is to say: amusing, but not likely to be great.

I also suspect that the costumers, set decorators, etc. were all lawyers trying to get into their respective fields in show businesses because their instructions seemed to be: “make this as close to Star Trek as possible without getting sued”. And as has been observed, the comedy feels glued on the side. And not with epoxy, either, but more like Elmer’s that someone forgot to clamp.

There are several reasons I don’t expect The Orville, despite being pretty and light fun, to be worth investing time in.

First: Seth MacFarlane is an outspoken atheist. I’m sorry to say it, but at the end of the day the atheist worldview doesn’t admit of any rationally consistent stories to tell. Creatures with neither free will nor prescriptive natures can’t really be the protagonists of stories, and where good and bad are just feelings, it’s hard to come up with a reason to care about what fictional people fictionally feel about things that aren’t really happening.

Second: The comedy seems generally willing to sacrifice characters for laughs. In complete comedies this can work, such as in 30 Rock. 30 Rock didn’t have characters, it had what might be called loci of jokes. The complete lack of consistent characters made the sacrificing of characters for jokes tolerable. The Orville wants to be a drama as well as a comedy, so I think that the willingness to sacrifice characters for jokes will play out very badly, unless the predictions of the comedy being dropped altogether turn out to be correct.

Third: There isn’t much of an attempt at consistency in the characters even in the dramatic elements. I’m told that the third episode of The Orville involves a plot where the member of the all-male species gives birth to a female and wants corrective surgery for her. The problem is, to begin with, it doesn’t mean anything to say that a species is all male. Male only has meaning in reference to female, and vice versa. It would be like saying that it’s a species where all of its members are above average. What’s meant is that they all look like human males. But so what?

(I should note that in a science fiction context it would be possible to have an all male species if you were to invoke cloning, such that it was a species with females but the females died off and so the species only persists through cloning. That is not at all what was described here.)

Fourth: the hyper-intelligent science officer males an imply/infer error. I used to think that this was only a trope to allow the writers to show that a character isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and some other character is. The typical setup involves someone saying, “are you inferring that I stole money from the account?” and someone else says, “No, he’s implying it. You’re inferring it.” Or words to that effect. But this case seems to be a genuine imply/infer error. The captain asks the member of the hyper-intelligent species if they’re as racist as they’re reputed to be, and he responds something to the effect, “If you’re inferring that we regard other species as very far below us, that is correct”. He wasn’t inferring it, he was implying it. This is not auspicious for how the writing of the hyper-intelligent science officer will go. Granted, it could be a subtle tell that the species is not in fact hyper-intelligent and only think that they are, but I’ve heard this isn’t the case and the so-far-beyond-us-we’re-like-pet-gerbils-to-them aspect is played straight.

I don’t want to be this cynical about modern television, but as a Scottish chief engineer once said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

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