Despite what Fox promos may have led you to believe, Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville” is not a comedy. It’s not a parody of “Star Trek.” It’s not a TV version of “Galaxy Quest.”
Creator/producer/star Seth MacFarland calls it an “homage” to “Star Trek.” It’s actually a by-the-numbers copy. Or, more accurately, a “Star Trek” ripoff.
It looks, sounds, feels and plays like “Star Trek.” There’s an attempt at humor, but it’s just a fraction of what MacFarlane describes as “a sci-fi, comedic drama.”
And there’s no attempt at all to mask that “The Orville” is mimicking “Star Trek”:
• The Union replaces the Federation.
• The uniforms are extremely similar.
• The passageways, brig and med bay/bridge look very much the same. There’s a lounge that’s clearly patterned on Ten Forward on the Enterprise-D in “Next Gen.”
• The Orville bridge is very familiar. It has two center seats, one more than the original Enterprise, but one fewer than on the Enterprise-D in “Next Generation.”
• There are food synthesizers.
• The Moclans bear more than a passing resemblance to Klingons.
• The main body of the Orville is virtually identical to “Trek” vessels, albeit with three circular structures on the rear instead of nacelles.
• Episode 2 of “The Orville” revolves around two crew members being kidnapped and locked in an alien zoo. That’s the plot of the original “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage” (later reworked into a two-parter titled “The Menagerie”), which was revisited in episodes of the “Trek” animated series and “Next Generation.”
• Episodes feature cuts into and out of scenes that are right from the “Trek” playbook.
• About the only thing “Star Trek” has that “The Orville” does not is transporter technology. Orville crew use shuttlecraft — which look very much like “Trek” shuttlecraft.
• Even the look of the show — the use of a starship model, as opposed to pure CGI — harks back to ’90s “Star Trek.”
Forbes’ Dani Di Placido wrote that MacFarlane is “outright stealing ‘Star Trek’s’ visual palette.”
And it’s an inside job. “The Orville” is crawling with “Trek” alumni. Not just big names like executive producer Brannon Braga (who wrote and/or produced three “Trek” series and two “Trek” movies) and stars Jonathan Frakes (“Next Gen”) and Robert Duncan MacNeil (“Voyager”), who each direct an episode, but all sorts of crew members in the art department, the costume department and more.
On TV • ”The Orville” premieres Sunday, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. Episode 2 airs Sunday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. The series moves to its regular time slot on Thursday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m.
MacFarlane argues it’s not plagiarism because “‘Star Trek’ itself sprang from a lot of different sci-fi tropes that came before it. … The idea of a ship in the naval sense cruising through space is something that doesn’t originate with that show.”
That’s true. But it doesn’t address the fact that “The Orville” isn’t just operating in the same genre as “Star Trek,” it’s the same show with slight twists.
Decades ago, Fox sued Universal, claiming the original “Battlestar Galactica” ripped off “Star Wars.” On a similarity scale of 10, those two shows were maybe a 1.5.
On that same scale, “The Orville” and “Star Trek” are at least a 9.975.
Again, Fox cannot possibly claim that “The Orville” is a parody or a spoof. It is neither.
In the third episode, a male-male couple, members of an all-male race, hatch an egg with a female baby — and there’s a debate about whether the child should be surgically altered. Not a lot of laughs there.
“The Orville” looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen, although Fox Television Group co-chairman Dana Walden insisted, “We’re not really concerned. We obviously have a big legal team.
“Seth’s intention is to do something that clearly pays homage to ‘Star Trek,’ that clearly was inspired a lot by ’Star Trek.’ I can’t imagine … that anyone would consider it anything other than a compliment,” she said, adding “most shows have some DNA of previous shows.”
“The Orville” doesn’t just have “some DNA” from “Star Trek,” it is a clone. If you screen “The Orville” next to “Next Generation” for non-Trekkers, they’d be hard-pressed to see much difference.
MacFarlane even tried to claim that “The Orville” is more “Star Trek” than the upcoming “Star Trek: Discovery.”
“I kind of miss the forward-thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that ‘Star Trek’ used to occupy,” he said. “I think they’ve chosen to go in a different direction.”
And then he decried all the “dystopian” science fiction in movies and television and held out that “The Orville” — not “Star Trek: Discovery” — is the counterweight.
Not surprisingly, that didn’t go over well with the team producing “Discovery.” Co-executive producer Ted Sullivan tweeted that “for a guy who’s never seen an episode of the show,” MacFarlane “sure has a LOT of opinions.”
The bottom line is “The Orville” is a Seth MacFarlane vanity project. He’s made Fox a lot of money with “Family Guy,” and the network is letting him spend money so that he can fulfill his lifelong fantasy of being Captain Kirk. Which is one of “The Orville’s” greatest flaws.
Robert Bianco of USA Today tweeted that MacFarlane starring in “The Orville” is problematic. “You either like him as an actor — or you don’t think he is one.”
It’s not that “The Orville” is a terrible show. It’s a decent-enough “Trek” clone that looks pretty cool and has an amazing set.
But the fact that it’s such a total rip-off is off-putting, to say the least.