The Orville is the Best Sci-Fi Show to Watch Right Now: Here’s Why…

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Now in its third season after sketchy initial reviews, Seth McFarlane’s The Orville brings a nice balance of levity and intriguing thought experiments to a mainstream sci-fi audience. 

I can hear the angry Trekkies shouting from across the internet! “What?” they’re demanding. “How could you possibly pick this mockery of Gene Roddenberry’s Holy Word!” “Why, The Orville is nothing but a Star Trek rip-off with sex jokes – you monster!!!

Sorry if I took any of those words out of your mouths. I don’t want to deny you the right to hate me for preferring The Orville, but please at least hear read me out. I submit to you, the Space Porn readership—even the Trekkiest Trekkies amongst thee—that The Orville delivers more of the spirit of the original Star Trek spirit to a wider audience than most, if not all, actual Star Trek shows currently in production.

DISCLAIMER: This article, like Star Trek, and The Orville, discusses current social issues. If you’re uncomfortable reading about such things at the moment, you may want to come back to this one.

Let’s Start with Why Star Trek is a Fantastic Template:

I’ve written many times before that I’m not a huge Trekkie, but that I do respect Roddenberry’s work—especially when it comes to bringing up social issues to a wider audience. I’ve watched most of the movies, and a good number of original series and TNG episodes. I also tried to get into Picard for this site, but lost interest after two episodes. 

And that’s kind of my point.

Star Trek: Picard, for which viewers have to pay, is not really Star Trek. Admittedly, I only got two episodes in. However, it’s immediately clear that it’s more of a mystery series and an explanation of the legendary Jean Luc Picard’s character than it is about seeking out strange new worlds.

Then there’s Star Trek: Discovery, which has relatively decent reviews, but, according to John Elledge from The New Statesman, “It’s got enough good stuff to keep me watching. Nonetheless, it feels a bit too obsessed with Star Trek for its own sake, rather than as a vehicle for telling stories with broader resonance.”

Being “obsessed with Star Trek for its own sake”

Unfortunately this is the major issue with trying to keep a franchise going for decades. And I’ll be the first to admit its the issue with Star Wars as well. When something so groundbreaking comes along and becomes a pop-culture phenomenon, it takes on a life of its own. And, because of a significant number of incredibly vocal fans, creators often feel reluctant to add anything new for fear of “pissing off the base.” Sounds a little like a familiar pattern in the world, huh?

In the case of Star Wars, Lucas first attempted to revive it with altered versions of the originals—which pissed everybody off. Then he tried creating a whole new storyline with the prequels—which pissed everybody off. Then, when Disney took over, they added new characters, but recycled the plot. That’s why I thought Rogue One was so good. It balanced the lore with a new spin on the universe.

With Star Trek you get a string of series (after TNG) that have nowhere to go but to further expand the Star Trek universe and explore different ships and characters. But then that’s all those shows become about. 

The Original Series:

In the 1960s, during all of the turmoil that came with that decade (particularly the cold war, the space race, and the civil rights movement), Gene Roddenberry had an idea. He knew that he could help to open the minds of the public by using science fiction to subtly get people thinking about social issues of the day. 

For example: The crew of the Enterprise included a Black woman, a Chinese man (who we now know as one of the PRIDE movement’s biggest heroes), and a Russian man. So in three characters, Roddenberry subtly showed his viewers, many of whom he knew would be young, that it was possible for people of color, women, and even our supposed “enemies” to come together for a more noble purpose. 

Unfortunately, the original series didn’t last that long, but it did last long enough to have a significant impact on the world. Movies followed. Then, in the 1980s, a worthy sequel was created to carry on the torch.

The Next Generation:

TNG was a bit controversial at the time due (again) to a fiercely devoted fan-base who didn’t want their canon messed with. However, when Picard and crew took over the Enterprise, they also took over the task of bringing to light the social issues of the day. These days, even most Trekkies will favor TNG over the original series. Not so with any spinoff since, though. Even though there’ve been some good ones.

TNG took Roddenberry’s world and used new technology and new social enlightenment to further display a universe where money is abolished, people’s basic needs are provided for, and humans are free to explore their full potential. In other words, it stayed true to what made Star Trek great in the first place. 

Since then, however, most Star Trek series have been more about Star Trek than about humanity. 


Then there’s The Orville:

I’m gonna come right out with it. Yes. The Orville is essentially a Star Trek parody with dick and fart jokes. But you’re reading a website called Space Porn, so I doubt that should be a dealbreaker for you. Here’s the thing, though. I watched the first season every week when it came out. But I heard so many terrible things about it from others at the time, I thought for sure it would be cancelled. So I kind of forgot about it until the second season showed up on my Hulu feed.

I was really excited that it’d been renewed, but I’d forgotten most of what happened in the first season, so I knew I was gonna have to go back and do a re-watch.

That brings us to today. 

I started binging The Orville again about a week ago, and I haven’t wanted to watch anything else since. For reference, I’m currently near the end of season 2. The beauty of this show is that it can claim comedy status. That means—like sci-fi back in the sixties—the general public doesn’t really take it too seriously.

That frees up McFarlane and company to explore all manner of important social issues, from race and cultural differences, to gender issues, to relationships and responsible exploration. 

Further, by unabashedly being a Star Trek parody (C’mon, they’re definitely not trying to hide it), they can use many of the same mechanisms Roddenberry employed back in the 1960s to bring important issues and their complex natures to a wide network television audience. 

Great Characters, Great Situations

A great example of how they do it is with Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), an alien from a world in which all members of its species are male. Seems simple right? “Oh, they’re all homosexuals. There’s ol’ McFarlane reminding us that it’s okay to be gay again.” But then you get to the plot. When Bortus lays an egg (that’s how his species reproduces) the baby turns out to be female. In his society, it is a social death sentence to be a female, so most parents perform a sex-change operation shortly after birth, ensuring an all male population. 

Oh shit! Things just got complex! Now it’s not just about gay or straight. It’s about self-determination, gender identity, and whether we have sovereignty over our own bodies. Man, for a second there I thought we were just gonna be making jokes about the funny gay alien laying the egg. Now I have to think a little. 

And while not every episode is that complex, there are plenty of them to keep you interested as you binge. And even when the complex episodes arise, they don’t come off as preachy. Plus there’s plenty of comedy in between—both high and low brow—to balance out the commentary. 

Finally, The Orville won an Emmy for its special effects, so if cool space battles, rad-looking aliens, and awesome visual effects are your things, then you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Final Verdict: 4.5/5 Comets

The Orville, like Star Trek (the original series and TNG) feels like the right show for this time and place. By showing us a galaxy full of alien cultures with problems not much different than our own, it helps open our eyes just a bit wider. And it’s funny enough to keep you entertained. Laughter brings people together. So does seeing things from a slightly different point of view. The Orville will make you do both. 

One More Thing:

In the wake of the turmoil our nation has experienced over the past few weeks, we at Space Porn would like to offer our support to the Black community who are suffering at the hands of systemic injustice. We hear you. We see you. And we’re listening. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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