The Orville Fox Seth MacFarlane

The Orville: Seth MacFarlane Explains Why His New Show Isn't Just a Comedy

So you’re expecting Seth MacFarlane’s new Fox series The Orville to be a Star Trek parody filled with crude jokes? Well, you’d better reset your coordinates.

The sci-fi series — premiering Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8/7c — is not just a Family-Guy-in-space collection of punchlines; it has a dramatic side as well, with earnest metaphorical explorations of current societal issues. (An early episode tackles the thorny question of gender identity, for example.) And that’s exactly the way MacFarlane, who created the show and stars as the Orville’s captain Ed Mercer, wanted it.

The Orville Fox Seth MacFarlane“We really do see it as a sci-fi comedic drama,” MacFarlane told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday. “It can’t just be gag-gag-gag-gag-gag. There has to be some reality to where the jokes come from.” He adds that The Orville never ventures into straight satire, a la Spaceballs: “Nothing ever goes into that Mel Brooks realm, and that’s by design.”

That may come to a surprise to anyone who’s seen the ads for The Orville, which “have leaned very heavily on the comedy,” MacFarlane admits. “Comedy is a very big part of this… [but] it is one piece of a larger geometric shape. The show is seeking to break a little bit of new ground, tonally.”

The Orville isn’t serialized, so it’s free to hop around from lighter stories to heavier ones from one week to next, MacFarlane says: “Each week, you’re seeing a little movie, and each story is different. And tonally, there will be some variance. But the characters are always the characters.” He cites Star Trek: The Next Generation as a touchstone, which had “a big two-part episode about the Borg that was followed up the next week with a story about Picard going home to France to visit his brother at the winery… And I remember thinking, ‘God, this is how TV should be. You should be able to write any kind of story each week, and really surprise your audience.'”

MacFarlane ultimately sees The Orville as an antidote to the current wave of dystopian sci-fi shows like The Walking Dead. “I kind of miss the forward-thinking, aspirational space that Star Trek used to occupy. It can’t all be The Hunger Games. It can’t all be the nightmare scenario,” he says. “I’m tired of everything being grim and dystopian. I miss the hopeful side of science fiction.”

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34 Comments
  1. B says:

    As mentioned in the article, after seeing the previews I thought it was going to be pure farce/Star Trek satire, but this makes me a little more hopeful/interested.

  2. peterwdawson says:

    Okay, good, they have some idea what they’re doing.

  3. Lauren says:

    Ok, this description makes me way more interested in the show.

  4. Jason says:

    I’m not surprised that there is going to be a weightier side to the series, given the fact that Seth is a massive Star Trek fan. He was even involved with the extras on the recent Next Generation blu-rays.

  5. Well, that episode with Picard and his brother also dealth with his coming to terms with being Locutus.

    • eh.. what? Picard being locutus was in first contact, which came out 6 years after that episode of TNG (1996 vs 1990)..

      • Scribe says:

        what???

      • I think you are confusing this with Data being courted by the Borg Queen in First Contact .. Picard became a BORG in an Episode of TNG

      • CMG says:

        There were certainly a lot of references *back* to when Picard was Locutus in the movie First Contact, including an extended flashback scene, but that’s all those were – flashbacks and references.
        Picard was captured by the Borg and turned into Locutus in “Best of Both Worlds, Part I,” the third season cliffhanger. He was then was recovered by the Enterprise in “Best of Both Worlds, Part II,” the fourth season opener.

      • Picard became Locutus in Best of Both Worlds, the two part episode that aired before the one in which he visited his brother and his family in France.

      • Imzadi says:

        Just like a the others said. It was the mother of all cliffhangers.
        “I am Locutus – of Borg. Resistance – is futile. Your life, as it has been – is over. From this time forward, you will service – us.”

        • lrdslvrhnd says:

          Yeah, I firmly blame “Best of Both Worlds” for every series now having a season finale cliffhanger. It all started there.

          • Imzadi says:

            I remember seeing it for the first time when it premiered here in Germany. It was awesome. And lucky me, I could watch the next episode the next day :).

          • The Best of Both Worlds Part 1 aired on June 18, 1990.

            “A House Divided”, the final episode of the third season of Dallas in which Kristin shot JR, aired on May 26, 1980.

            Surely that must have been the first.

          • lrdslvrhnd says:

            I didn’t say it was the first. I said it was the one that started the trend.

  6. Molsongold says:

    Unencumbered by timelines that just frustrate fans, make it so!

  7. Lori says:

    It’ll air 5 episodes.

  8. Wordsmith says:

    It sounds like they’re trying to walk the line between action-drama and wacky comedy in the same way that Chuck did.
    I still have great affection for that show – finale and all – so hopefully this one will find a similar creative groove and run at least as long.

  9. Charley B. says:

    Sounds like MacFarlane is trying to save TV as we know it. Boldy going… lol I REALLY hope he can do it. TV has gotten SO depressing of late. We may actually turn it back on again for this.

  10. Darsan54 says:

    I have high hopes for “The Orville” and now they have just gone higher. I agree that we have to occasionally look on the brighter side.

  11. Nemo says:

    If the show can strike the same balance of humor and heart as Galaxy Quest, I think it will be successful.

  12. Michael Summerset says:

    The mess made with Star Trek Discovery is only going to help boost the popularity of The Orville. STD is doing everything wrong. They’re running a short, spit season and they’re putting it on an exclusive service. The Orville is being aired on TV and could get a full season of 20 or more episodes. If The Orville could call itself Star Trek, it would be more Star Trek than Discovery.

    • Megan says:

      Totally agree. I’m a huge Star Trek fan and I’m way more excited for The Orville than Star Trek Discovery. STD is doing everything they can to alienate Star Trek fans, while The Orville is inviting us in!

  13. Matt Barnes says:

    Unfortunately, it’s going to be on Fox. This means that if it’s any good (which it sounds like it will be) it’ll be cancelled by Christmas. They should start talking to Netflix now.

    • Rex the Wonder Dog says:

      The Simpsons, Gotham, Lucifer, Bob’s Burgers, Last Man on Earth, The Exorcist. Fox does seem to have a problem keeping oddball shows.

  14. WS says:

    I just keep getting a Galaxy Quest vibe from this thing.

  15. Billy Bob Johnson says:

    Much better knowing this information. I’ll be tuning in on Sept. 10th. Many original Star Trek series episodes dealt with the issues of the day (e.g., crew diversity, TV’s first inter-racial kiss, religion). Some episodes were just plain silliness (Trouble with Tribbles). Good to hear that MacFarlane will be bringing some of that back to sci-fi.

  16. Television says:

    How is this not a rip off of star trek and why would they be allowed to make this show? I mean, the uniforms, and everything are star trek, how is that not copy infringement? I wouldn’t watch a show that makes fun of or rips off another show. I will not be watching this.

  17. texmike says:

    I’m really looking forward to this one. The trailers look great!

  18. Agent 86 says:

    It sounds (and looks) so much better than STD … I mean Star Trek: Discovery.