The Orville

If you’ve seen the TV spots for Seth MacFarlane’s new Fox series The Orville, you might think it’s another comedic romp from the creator of Family Guy and Ted. It is funny, but what the ads are not showing is that The Orville is an hour long spaceship drama that just happens to be populated with funny people (and aliens). On a Television Critics Association panel for The Orville, MacFarlane explained why The Orville needed to be more than a spoof of Star Trek and other sci-fi shows.

“If this were a half hour, it would be kind of cut and dry what this is,” MacFarlane said. “Because we’re an hour long show, the story has to come first. It can’t just be gag gag gag gag gag. There has to be some reality to where the comedy comes from. If you break down where the jokes come and how they lay out, you’ll notice there really isn’t anything that exists in the Spaceballs/Family Guy realm. It all comes out of who the characters are that adhere to the reality of a science fiction world. Nothing ever goes into that Mel Brooks realm and that’s by design. We really do see it as a sci-fi comedic drama. We allow ourselves room for levity in ways that a traditional hour long sci-fi doesn’t. We’re trying to break some new ground here. Whether or not we’ve succeeded is up to the viewers.”

Some critics were surprised just how serious the third episode of The Orville got. It is MacFarlane’s hope to shift the tone from episode to episode.

“The following episode is actually fairly light,” MacFarlane said. “There’s no pattern to the first three. One of the things I always look to as a Star Trek fan, there was an episode that was a big two part episode about the Borg. It was followed up the next week with a story about Picard going home to France to visit his brother at the winery. It was the same show and the stories couldn’t be more different in tone. This is how TV should be. You should be able to write any kind of story each week and surprise your audience, but your characters remain intact and true to who they are.”

Likewise, MacFarlane hopes new viewers can jump into The Orville every week because each episode is a standalone story. “The show is not serialized,” MacFarlan said. “You can watch episodes out of order and still get a fulfilling viewing experience. That’s something I kind of miss about TV. Everything expects me to invest in it since day one and we’ve lost that hour long beginning, middle and end except for procedurals, but that used to be how TV worked. If the characters are always the characters and they don’t behave based on story, you should be able to tell different kinds of stories.”

MacFarlane plays the captain of a ship with a ragtag crew, with his ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki) serving on the bridge. The Orville is also modeled off a brightly colored future with technology like instant food machines a la The Next Generation. MacFarlane wanted to bring back this positive view of the future.

“I miss the optimism,” he said. “I’m tired of being told that everything is going to be grim and dystopian, people are going to be murdering each other for food. I’ve had enough of that. I miss the hopeful side of science fiction. That kind of goes back to the roots of the genre. What can we achieve if we put our minds to it? That flourished in the ’90s. Some shows did it in a more cheesy fashion, and others like Star Trek made it a little more legit, but that was the way to do a sci-fi show back then. Now things are very grim. That was a conscious choice because I miss that flavor of science fiction. It’s a space that’s waiting to be filled in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction which is great. It can’t all be The Hunger Games, a nightmare scenario.”

The Orville premieres Sunday, September 10 on Fox.

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