A lot of people were prepared to hate this. Seth McFarlane has people look down on him because they consider Family Guy to be low brow. To an extent, they're right. At least as far as my opinion of it runs. I enjoyed the first season a very long time ago, but have no interest in watching any more of it.
That attitude stretches to The Orville, his new Star Trek parody/homage. I've read some people be very angry indeed that he's trying this. Galaxy Quest was a beautiful version (and it had Alan Rickman, which does rather help), and it did it damn well. Plus, nostalgia goggles are in full effect with no Trek series for a while. But I wanted to try and stay a bit objective.
And I'm glad I did. I enjoyed this, and not for the reasons I expected.
This isn't a parody. It's an honest-to-goodness science fiction drama. I'd heard McFarlane made this because he loved Trek. I can believe it. The whole show feels like Trek. TNG, probably.
On the surface level, the aesthetics are strong. We've got the beautiful Earth, smooth-lined starships, turbolifts, posh chairs and tricorders. We've got rubber forehead aliens. We've even got the Krill, who look a fair bit like the Jem' Hadar. But we've also got a surprisingly optimistic baseline set of character traits. The characters are a bit dickish, but that's not necessarily bad. Trek existed in a utopia. It was Roddenberry's hope for a future in which we all work together for the common good, and the only obstacles were external.
How likely is that, really?
The universe of The Orville is populated by cynics. Or at least realists. They misbehave, they slack off, they engage in office politics. And they still work together to achieve an end result that comes from a reasonable setup, with just the right amount of technobabble. There is something very satisfying in seeing people who are more like us still reaching the impressive heights of the classic Trek crews.
The crew is well put together. Bortus does an excellent impression of Teal'c. It's an archetype, it works, they should just stick with it. Slightly superior Doctor sits pretty well in the McCoy/EMH niche. Super strong security waif is a nice twist, and might provide a fun subversion of the form. The helmsmen are a bit too far down the Tom Paris scale, and could maybe do with dialling it back. The robot? Not enough lines to be sure. Finally, the main conflict. The Captain and his Ex-wife (she earns the capital letter).
This is one of the things that could kill it. Realism can go too far, and I don't want to watch a squabbling couple. I'm going to guess that the conflict will turn into a will they/won't they, and that might be survivable as long as it doesn't go too mean-spirited.
The biggest flaw in this is when it's trying to tell jokes. The toilet humour scene (just the one, thankfully) shouldn't have been there. That's the sort of thing that McFarlane needs an editor for. (Disregarding the fact that telly series are team efforts now.) This could be a straight Trek show, and a really good one, with nothing more than a slightly cynical filter on the people. Stop telling jokes.
I'm going to keep watching. If you're a Trek nerd, I think you should try it.