The Orville is lucky its newest season is only on Hulu and will only be experienced by its faithful fans, because it is truly terrible television. Since the show originally aired as a campy Star Trek knock-off, 5 new Star Trek shows have premiered targeting many different viewer markets. The Orville had two paths to choose from; it could double down on its commitment to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek or it could embrace the career of its writer/director/producer/star Seth McFarlane and provide poop jokes in space. It somehow settled on a terrible combination of the two.
I must confess that I bring plenty of bias to this topic. As my writing has shown previously, I am a committed Trekkie who has very little respect for Seth McFarlane as an actor, writer, or personality. Yet I found myself greatly enjoying The Orville’s first two seasons when they aired on Fox in 2017 and 2018. The acting was standard for network television and many of the story lines were simple. While the science never felt as believable as The Expanse; the action shots of the ship scratched an itch that had been missing in the decade plus since a Star Trek show graced the cable lineup.
The Orville’s first episode aired 3 weeks before Star Trek Discovery. And unlike its competitor, all episodes were released on Network. Discovery was behind a paywall on Paramount+. The Orville was greatly affected by the pandemic and saw more than 3 years between the last airing of season 2 and the release of season 3. It was also dropped from its network and picked up by Hulu directly. During that time, Star Trek was able to figure out the Sci-Fi formula.
Paramount pressed on with Discovery, a show which provides a new type of trek for a more “woke” world. They then launched 2 seasons of Picard to profit off those nostalgic for Star Trek’s earlier days. Two cartoons (Lower Decks and Prodigy) to bring in a younger crowd as well as providing a more humorous side to Starfleet. And this year saw the first season of Strange New World’s which is probably one of the best seasons of science fiction television I’ve ever experienced.
Between season 2 and season 3 of The Orville, my itch for Trek had been scratched and all that was left was Seth McFarlane. Season 3 opens with an excruciating look of a crew struggling with unabashed racism and hatred for a fellow crew member that eventually leads to his suicide. But wait! The crew discovers a way to revive their fallen comrade, but the only person with the skills to do it happens to be the most racist of their colleagues. The rest of the show remains as ham fisted as this synopsis.
It could have been possible for the show to survive on its characters’ charm but that also has taken a hit. Norm McDonald’s passing has left his character with little screen time. One of the stars of season 1 and 2 was written off due to her breakup with McFarlane. His new flame is the aforementioned racist crew member, at least we won’t be remiss when she is unexpectedly no longer seen in the briefing room.
For now it seems The Orville will stay at 3 seasons, though I am sure there is hope a future addition to Disney+ could add some hype for a 4th. The Orville is not worth investing in unless you are desperate for a show that mirrors the worst of our current society. Star Trek has grown to embrace diversity in many different ways, but if you crave the good ole days of men making decisions based on ego and horniness The Orville may be worth checking out.