The Orville: The Best Trek?
When The Orville premiered in September 2017, the critics hated it, fans loved it, and soon the Internet was all abuzz with the notion that Seth MacFarlane had just created a new show that was better Star Trek than Star Trek.
We all were expecting The Orville to be a TV show similar to one of my all-time favorite movies: Galaxy Quest. And it turned out to be a bit like it, and then some…
Fast forward to today and for many die-hard Trekkies and Orvillians, it’s a given that The Orville is one of the best Treks and now serves as a model for the writers and producers of Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and Prodigy to measure themselves against. All hail Seth MacFarlane for raising the bar and saving the Star Trek franchise from itself. May we all Ja’loja Long and Prosper for decades to come!
So, how did Seth do it? For starters: better lighting.
When The Orville premiered, all we had was Star Trek: Discovery and murmurings of some other shows in the pipeline, Discovery being the darkest, most controversial, and least uplifting Star Trek show in the history of the franchise. The sets were darkly lit, the uniforms a deep blue, the scripts grittier than heck, an evil captain… In a word, kind of a downer.
So yeah, Seth copied Star Trek: The Next Generation, threw in some dorky jokes, and off we went. Honestly, I was expecting to watch an episode or two just to see what was up, and call it good.
But then I quickly realized something. Wait a sec — this episode is still swimming around in my brain, days after watching it! It touched on something in me the way TOS episodes used to do. Or classic Twilight Zone. So, I watched next week’s episode. Uh oh! Now I was obsessed with some of the stuff in that one…. I was hooked!
The Orville was much more than a rip-off of Galaxy Quest or Next Gen. These shows were a springboard, a launch pad from which our hero, Seth MacFarlane, rocketed us into a glorious new era of episodic sci-fi full of aliens-of-the-week, pew pews, spaceships, and most importantly, a story that’s completely relevant to current events, and the all-informing Zeitgeist of Planet Earth.
And even though each episode stood on its own merits and didn’t require watching previous ones in order to make sense of it, I realized another thing: I was somehow developing a relationship with all of the people on the bridge. I cared about them. They were my friends. They were my family. I’d go to sleep at night and have dreams about Isaac and Gordy sitting in Ten Forward or the Holodeck (I forget what these are called in The Orville, but everybody knows what we’re talking about).
Also, we’ve got some serious cross-pollination going on, with well-known producer and writer Brannon Braga working on both shows, as well as various other behind-the-scenes experts.
Also, a slew of Star Trek actors have made Orvillian appearances. We’ve got Robert Picardo (Voyager’s EMH) guest-starring as Alara’s father alongside John Billingsley (Doctor Phlox of Enterprise) in The Orville Season 2 episode “Home”. And we can’t forget Tim Russ (Tuvok on Voyager) appearing later that season, in the episode “Lasting Impressions”, as planetary historian Doctor Sherman. The next episode to that, “Sanctuary”, was directed by Jonathan Frakes and includes Marina Sirtis playing a schoolteacher.
Working in the other direction, it turns out that Seth MacFarlane himself was a guest star on Star Trek: Enterprise back in the day, playing the role of Engineering Ensign Rivers. And our dear Internet sleuths have managed to uncover a Star Trek fan film that Seth made with his friends when he was in high school.
As if all that wasn’t enough, prior to portraying The Orville main character Dr. Claire Finn, Penny Johnson Jerald played recurring character Kasidy Yates in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as well as Dobara in TNG Season 7 episode “Homeward”.
So, there we have it: The Orville is, in fact, Star Trek through and through. And not only is it Star Trek, but one of the best Star Treks.
Basically, the only thing that Star Trek has that The Orville lacks is transporters, so every time we go to a planet, we have to suffer through a trip in a rather ridiculous-looking shuttlecraft. Thank goodness we got shuttle upgrades in Season 3! Also, we have yet to encounter an alien super-race akin to the Organians, but we do have Season 4 on the horizon, so…
Happily, Paramount+ and the important folks funding the Star Trek franchise took note of The Orville’s success at some point, and made a bit of a course correction, thank the stars. We began to notice certain Orvillian qualities (which, of course, began with TOS and for some strange reason were abandoned) emerging in the latest Trek shows. These even started showing up in later seasons of Star Trek: Discovery. Hmmm…
It’s all good. The Galaxy is an awfully big place, with plenty of room for all of us Trekkies and Orvillians. Let’s all co-exist in peace, love, and harmony!