'The Orville' Reviews: Seth MacFarlane's 'Star Trek'-Inspired Show Isn't A Comedy After All

With its Star Trek-inspired designs, constant quipping, and creator/star Seth MacFarlane dropping one-liners left and right throughout its trailers, it's no wonder we all thought Fox's new TV series The Orville was a sci-fi comedy. But reviews for the upcoming series are in, and they come with a warning: the show isn't a comedy, but an hour-long drama interspersed with moments of levity. Well, that's certainly unexpected. Let's see what the critics have to say in this roundup of The Orville reviews.

It wouldn't be crazy to assume this show is a comedy after watching that trailer, right? But apparently that's not what we're in for. Dave Nemetz at TV Line explains:

Despite what Fox's official site claims, The Orville — premiering this Sunday at 8/7c — is not a "hilarious comedy." It's not even a comedy. Yes, there are a few Family Guy-esque punchlines scattered throughout, but as bafflingly as this sounds, The Orville is mostly a straightforward drama... and not a very good one, at that. Riddled with sci-fi clichés and paralyzed by a grim self-importance, MacFarlane's shiny new vessel ends up being a colossal dud that not only fails to take flight, it short-circuits before it even gets out of the docking bay.

He goes on to ding MacFarlane's acting and says the show's writing leaves its characters hanging out to dry:

Frankly, MacFarlane is way out of his depth here, not only as a dramatic writer, but also as an actor. After making a career as an irreverent smart-ass, it's near impossible to take him seriously as a dramatic leading man. [Adrienne] Palicki was terrific on Friday Night Lights — Texas forever, y'all — but her talents are wasted here on a sorely underwritten character. (Kelly is Ed's ex-wife, she cheated on him and... yep, that's about it.) Really, the entire cast is trapped in limbo thanks to the erratic writing, asked to recite heavy dramatic monologues one minute and then crack crude jokes the next.

Kelly Lawler at USA Today sounds impressed by the sci-fi aesthetic of the show, but says the bits of humor that are scattered throughout hurt more than help:

Most of the time, The Orville is actually quite invested in the sci-fi world it creates. The series is surprisingly reliant on special effects and makeup, and builds an intriguing world with its own version of Star Fleet and a unique ship. And while it tells some interesting genre stories, the plots are undercut by a vomit gag or random jokes about who gets to be the car in a game of Monopoly.

The delivery of these jokes feels intensely unnatural, as most of the actors play their roles with painful sincerity. And while much of the humor stems from bickering between MacFarlane and Palicki, the pair lacks chemistry, making it neither believable nor particularly enjoyable.

Many critics wrote about how this might work better as a half-hour show, but its hour-long length becomes part of its downfall. And while the first two episodes sound like table-setting that's typically seen early in show's run, Mo Ryan at Variety says The Orville whiffs on a third episode storyline in a catastrophic way:

There is an attempt to do something unusual with one species: An officer aboard the Orville named Bortus (Peter Macon) is from a planet populated exclusively by males, as is his mate, Klyden (Chad L. Coleman). The third installment, which is devoted entirely to their efforts to expand their family, is one of the most spectacular and unfortunate storytelling fails of the year.

An air of self-congratulation hangs over the entire hour, as if MacFarlane, who wrote it, couldn't get over his awe at his own bravery in engaging with a difficult, complex topic. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that the show takes a big creative swing tackling issues of gender and identity, but it does not connect, and the end result is disastrous. If it's challenging for "The Orville" to wring laughs from the audience, it's all but impossible for it to earn the dramatic (and tone-deaf) conclusion it attempts in the third episode.

Dan Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter is one of a ton of critics that slap the show on the wrist for being little more than a poorly-executed Star Trek cosplay session:

The Orville is a reminder that Seth MacFarlane is also the devoted geek — said only with respect — who earned a Grammy nomination for an album of standards and last used his Fox leverage to remake Cosmos. There are no tongues in the cheeks of The Orville. It's the work of a fan of Star Trek trying to make a Star Trek show, without any of that pesky darkness or edginess modern audiences might expect. And also without paying anything, other than clear respect, to the Roddenberry estate. From Joseph A. Porro's crew costumes to John Debney's score to the tremendous makeup team to the mission/alien-of-the-week episodic structure, the primary note on every creative decision was presumably either "Make it more Star Trek" or, after a while, just a wink and, "You know what to do."

Collider's Chris Cabin agrees:

...the technical aspects of The Orville are nothing to herald, and this is where its unmistakable similarities to Star Trek become impossible not to talk about. The style and cut of the wardrobe is near-identical to that of The Next Generation, and its delineated by colors to show ranking. If one were to take Mercer and Kelly as the show's Picard and Riker, the rest of the Orville crew similarly fits snuggly into the Enterprise roles: an all-knowing robot, a wise and humane female doctor, an alien tough with a oddly shaped forehead, and a Tasha Yar-like badass. The make-up and design of the species that they encounter look slightly better, but that's more to do with industry advances than anything else, and the interiors of the ship are also strikingly familiar. There's even a race of evil aliens introduced in the first episode that might as well be a photocopy of the Romulans.

But Erik Adams at the AV Club says that while the show is shallow and not quite sure what it wants to be yet, he implies that the Seth MacFarlane of it all is enough to set it apart from its contemporaries:

The Orville goes where other programs have gone before, but those other programs didn't have the imprimatur and sensibility of MacFarlane, prospects that could repel as many viewers as they attract. When The Orville cracks a joke, it doesn't do so in the glib, button-pushing manner of its creator's animation and film work. It treats humor more like a release valve, and that's where the series manages to stake its own place among the stars: It's the optimistic, episodic, futuristic sci-fi series in which the characters shoot the shit like everyday coworkers. Ed and Kelly's veiled digs at one another or a digression about bringing soda onto the bridge add another layer to The Orville's weird mishmash, giving it a postmodern informality that's very, very much in keeping with the tradition of Family Guy and Ted.

So how did this show get the greenlight in the first place? Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall has a theory:

Why exactly does this show exist? Well, when you've made as much money for your bosses as MacFarlane has for the executives at Fox, if you want to act out your dream to be the captain of a very thinly-disguised Star Trek spinoff, you get to. But MacFarlane's very presence all but demands a certain style and amount of comedy that runs counter to everything else, even as the more overtly Jean-Luc Picard moments undermine the jokes.

Sounds like this show needs to get...*puts on sunglasses*...lost in space. (Sorry.) But if these criticisms aren't enough to keep you away, you can check out The Orville when the show debuts this Sunday night at 8pm on Fox.