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The Orville

Lifelong Star Trek fan Seth MacFarlane approached CBS in 2015 offering to revive the then-dormant franchise for television. He was turned down (presumably at least partly because CBS was already working on Discovery), so he instead teamed up with Trek veterans Brannon Braga and David A. Goodman to create The Orville.

The Orville is not technically Star Trek, but it’s about as close as you can get without the official name. It’s a deliberate attempt to recapture the spirit of 1990s Star Trek as seen in The Next Generation or Voyager, though with more comedic elements. The result is a sci-fi dramedy in a very Trek-like universe focusing on likable characters going on adventures that often feature allegories for modern-world issues.

Executive producer and writer David A. Goodman also writes the show’s tie-in comic, which is considered canonical unless contradicted by the show. Most issues take place between the show’s seasons and thus form interquel seasons 1.5 and 2.5. There’s also a novella adapted from the script for a planned third-season episode that proved to be unfilmable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Episodic or serial?

Mostly episodic. Similar to The Next Generation and Voyager, there are arcs, two-part episodes, recurring characters, and consequential events, but episodes generally have complete stories. The show is best enjoyed in order but most episodes can also be enjoyed in isolation.

Idealistic or cynical?

Idealistic. The Orville is an attempt to recapture what MacFarlane has described as “a heyday for thoughtful sci-fi” that was “utopian and aspirational.” The members of the crew are perhaps somewhat more flawed than in classic Star Trek, but they are portrayed sympathetically as skilled professionals dealing with personal problems just as real people do. Their hearts are in the right place, they try to do the right thing even when that proves difficult, and sticking to their utopian values tends to be rewarded.

Worth watching?

Yes, particularly if you are nostalgic for 1990s Star Trek and open to a somewhat more comedic implementation. While portions of the first episode or two can feel a bit like a sitcom in space instead of a lighter take on Trek, the show quickly finds its tone and strikes a balance between comedy and drama. And while some of the plotting and worldbuilding can feel a bit shallow, The Orville consistently has so much heart that it’s hard not to find it charming and warm.

The comics are faithful to the show’s tone and the kinds of concepts it explores and are thus easily worth reading if you enjoy the show. They can be thought of as bonus episodes; they explore some questions left open by the show but are not required in order to understand and appreciate it.

The show’s third season is a bit harder to recommend as it carries as a significant tonal shift, focusing far more on action and drama and much less on comedy. Episodes from that season are also considerably longer, ranging from just over an hour to nearly an hour and a half, with some feeling quite bloated.

Anything else that should be watched first?

Since this is not part of actual Star Trek canon there are no prerequisites, but a general familiarity with at least one of The Original Series, The Next Generation, or Voyager will likely improve your appreciation of the The Orville’s tone and the basic assumptions of its universe.

What should be watched after this?

If you’re looking for more light-hearted love letters to Star Trek, there’s always Galaxy Quest.