waynepygram.com: The Orville Episode Review: Command Performance (S1E2)

waynepygram.com: The Orville Episode Review: Command Performance (S1E2)

We're not your Shamu!

What is it? 44-minute/hour-long(!) single-cam drama/parody series
Where did it air? Well it's a Seth MacFarlane show so of course it's going to be on FOX, with all the other Seth MacFarlane shows that cumulative could make up like 44% of the network, and in both new and rerun form currently makes up 80% of TBS.
Who stars in it? Well it's created by Seth MacFarlane so of course it's also gotta star Seth MacFarlane himself, Adriana Patelik (?, yeah I'm going off by memory here again) who you'll likely recognize from Marvel's (lol) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (double-lol), and Halston Sage(!), who you'll recognize from various things like How to Rock (if you actually remember that show) and Paper Towns (if you bothered to catch its limited release or stream it/bought/rented the DVD/Blu-Ray).
Why are we reviewing this? Because I love Star Trek, and given what we Trekkies have been getting for the past dozen years yeah I'll take this one.

Well...that was unexpected, and when I say this about a Seth MacFarlane show that almost always means in a good way.

The pilot/first episode was a big pile of meh so why don't we just skip that entirely shall we? The two other episodes so far are massive improvements, a bigger turn-around than even Liv and Maddie (so that it's setting a very high bar for itself, well-done, I guess?) The third episode...well, in classic MacFarlane fashion it ended up being a little controversial (and not having a transgender perspective, I really don't know how to approach the issues, at least in the most fair manner to the five or seven or so of you who bother to read this blog) and besides I think the second episode best balances the comedy/parody and "Seth clearly just wants to live out his childhood fantasies of being a Starfleet captain on broadcast TV" aspects that the show is going for anyway, so let's go with that one.

Let's get this upfront first: this is Seth's best series so far, bar none. It's better than all of Family Guy, American Dad!, Cleveland Show, A Million Ways to Die in the West and both Ted movies combined. Yes, that sets a low bar but this is seriously a quality show here. Hell it's better than all that plus throwing in the entirety of Star Trek: Enterprise, probably a good chunk of Star Trek: Voyager too.

I haven't seen this show yet and I don't know if I plan to, but I don't think it will ever hold a candle to the first four seasons of FG and seasons 2-9 of AD, combined. The Cleveland Show? Yeah, why not?

And yes, that still sets a low bar but trust me on this.

I wouldn't be giving it such (relatively?) high praise if first and foremost it didn't actually feel like a Star Trek show. All those nerdy references Seth's been giving us throughout Family Guy especially have finally paid off here. And yet at the same time it doesn't feel inaccessible to a non-Trekkie at all - which is absolutely vital if this show's gonna attract any kind of viewership necessary for survival.I really do feel like you can have literally zero background or prior knowledge of Trek and still enjoy it, yet there's more than enough subtle referential humor or allusions sprinkled throughout for the Trekkie to appreciate.

At the same time, again Command Performance in particular gives enough room for the type of comedy and spoofing people are really coming in for when they hear about a series created by Seth MacFarlane. Compared to the other two, that ends up being this episode's greatest strength: the pilot frankly kinda forgot it was a parody and it resulted in an extremely lame effort, while About a Girl very wisely laid back off on it to not interfere with the episode's issues at hand, however you feel about them. And the humor plays off to Seth's greatest strengths, too - it's not trying to be some sort of overarching joke in the way Family Guy tends to be, in exactly the way that makes people accuse Family Guy of being a Simpsons ripoff - all of the humor comes from exactly how actual, real people would react to the crazy and belief-stretching plotlines that Trek has a tendency to delve into, especially on its off days (Voyager and Enterprise especially to the point where it became the bulk of those series, TNG by a large margin too, and while DS9 was by far the least offender it still had plenty of those silly-stupid off episodes - and as for the original series, well...yeah, let's face it, it's what that series built its reputation on, if the original series wasn't this silly we wouldn't even have The Orville to be discussing here). Command Performance really shows us what this series is about: normal, actually pretty believable characters that we can actually relate to, except they happen to be in this spaceship fleet thingy and zooming around in spaceships. But they don't forget that they're real people while they're doing it.

TNG, especially, really tried to force its characters into the "ideal officer" mold and consequently they come off as much more wooden if not at least in some cases and circumstances even completely interchangeable, down to the delivery of the actors' dialogue. Again, DS9 was the least offender in all of this, really humanizing its characters by the time it really got into its stride. And then Voyager and Enterprise reversed that and made everyone wooden interchangeable characters again *rolleyes*.

But yeah, that's basically Command Performance in a nutshell - actual people, actual characters living out a typical Star Trek episode. And that's what makes it pretty great so far.

This is more of a general post about Seth MacFarlane, but honestly, his work benefits more from being influenced by the talent around him. The early years of Family Guy had people like David Zuckerman, Neil Goldman, Garrett Donovan, Mike Barker, and Matt Weitzman. American Dad was co-created by MacFarlane, but other than voicing Stan and Roger (MacFarlane's greatest strength is definitely his voice acting, to the point where I sometimes forget he even voices Stan and Roger), he doesn't contribute anything to the show. It was Barker and Weitzman who took the show and turned it into a unique, off-the-wall, cocaine-addicted Simpsons after everyone thought it was just a Family Guy ripoff that wouldn't last. And when Seth actually has tried to take creative matters into his own hands, it has ranged from surprisingly good (Ted) to unbelievably lazy and embarrassing for someone of his caliber (Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy). I don't know where The Orville falls on the spectrum, but there's a reason why I tend to give a side eye to his projects. 

Oh, I think it's definitely better than Ted (like I said, that plus literally everything else he's ever done/been associated with combined) and I definitely think it's one of those cases where he's benefiting from the influence of the talent around him, even if it's mostly going to be the acting talent in this case. The material itself is pretty neutral - you give it to meh-tastic actors and it's going to fall flat, like many Trek parodies that have come before (whether those that have been on actual television - mainly SyFy, as you might imagine - or effectively fanmade production on YouTube and whatnot). But it's Seth and the talent around him - Adrianne, Halston, all those guys whose names I clearly haven't yet bothered to remember, like that one guy who looks like Seth Green, you know who I mean, and given how much Seth and Seth have collaborated yeah I'm actually kinda shocked it isn't  Seth Green but you get my point - yeah the talent is really helping here.

Episode Grade: A-. This might seem like a very strong start but keep in mind this is the second episode, and I'm skipping the first episode specifically because it ended up super lame. Still, it's a very strong start and yes that grade is also influenced by how at least equally strong the follow-up episode was, so I do feel every reason to believe that The Orville will keep up this momentum. Or at least hope for it.
Episode MVP: Yes, I'm giving it to Seth, but I'm also co-awarding it to Adrianne because it's those two who really brought home the "Star Trek but with normal people in it" angle that's sold me on this series.

Extra Thoughts:

 - Surprisingly enough this show's virtually gone out of its way to avoid any Red Shirt jokes. I...actually really admire Seth for that, because especially after having seen this and About a Girl, Red Shirt jokes come off as really cheap. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it looks like Seth's above that now.
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