After “Family Guy,” “Ted” and just about every other project that's involved him, you might expect a space saga from Seth MacFarlane to be a spoof.
But ... no. Or, at least, not entirely.
The first of the fall season's new broadcast series to premiere, Fox's “The Orville” takes advantage of the lead-in from an NFL doubleheader by launching today. (It also will air the following Sunday, before settling into its regular Thursday slot Sept. 28.) And even though “Star Trek” is getting its own new edition with “Discovery,” you might think you've landed on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel again. However, the Orville is very much its own ship four centuries from now.
Directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), the pilot episode introduces series creator and executive producer MacFarlane as Ed Mercer, the new commander of the Orville ... whose first officer happens to be his ex-wife (“Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” alum Adrianne Palicki). MacFarlane-animated-series veteran Scott Grimes (“American Dad!”), Penny Johnson Jerald (“24”) and Norm Macdonald (in voice only) are among those playing other members of the crew, some of whom are human.
Amusing aspects of “The Orville” have been sold by Fox's promotion of the series, tied to the perception that viewers long have had of MacFarlane. “I feel great about the shows we've done,” the one-time Oscar host says, “and I feel like tonally, they're going to speak for themselves. And once people tune in and kind of see what the hour has to offer, it's really going to become clear what the show is.
“I think there's a tidiness to promoting it the way that it's been promoted,” adds MacFarlane, “and I think that it's worked well, and we've actually been very happy with the promos. But ... it is one piece of a larger geometric shape to this show.”
Making MacFarlane's reverence for “Star Trek” even clearer, the “Orville” team also includes executive producer Brannon Braga – a veteran of several incarnations of the “Star Trek” franchise – and director Robert Duncan McNeill, who co-starred in the series “Star Trek: Voyager.”
An executive producer along with MacFarlane on 2014's “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” Braga recalls attempting humor in the “Star Trek” world, “and occasionally it was funny, but it never occurred to me to take it to this level comedically. When I read the pilot script that Seth had written, the first thing that struck me was, 'This is completely original' – and yet a return to the kind of storytelling that I really missed when I did do 'Star Trek' all those years, which is stand-alone, one-hour drama with a beginning, middle and end. Which is something of a rarity these days.”
Indeed, MacFarlane (who's also in the movie “Logan Lucky” currently) confirms, “I kind of miss the forward-thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that 'Star Trek' used to occupy. I think they've chosen to go in a different direction, which has worked very well for them in recent years, but what has happened is that it's left open a space that has been relatively unoccupied for a while in the genre.
“So, for me, it's a space that's kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age, when we're getting a lot of dystopian science fiction ... a lot of which is great and very entertaining, but it can't all be 'The Hunger Games.' It can't all be the nightmare scenario.”