It’s hard to argue against Seth MacFarlane‘s success. After all, the man signed a $100 million+ contract with Fox in 2008 for his animated shows Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad. Two out of three are still going strong on the channel, and MacFarlane currently has an estimated $250 million net worth.
Since that time, MacFarlane has tried his hand at live-action cinema — recall Ted, Ted 2 and A Million Ways to Die in the West — to not-so-great results. (Though Ted did have its moments.) His latest venture, hour-long sci-fi TV spoof The Orville, isn’t exactly receiving love from critics, either. It premiered on Sunday, Sept. 10, and the bad reviews have been rolling in.
The show, starring MacFarlane as spaceship captain Ed Mercer, looks and feels like Star Trek, but it’s not.
It seems MacFarlane may have some difficulty creating believable, engaging real-life content. Critics rag on the very apparent Star Trek elements of The Orville, and lament its hour-long runtime, among other criticisms. Here are some standout takeaways from recent reviews.
“The look of the show — from the spaceships to the makeup, the production design to the costumes — is almost a slavish recreation with modest wrinkles, to the point where one begins to wonder how it all cleared legal… While The Orville clearly demonstrates its fondness for a show that promised to boldly go where others hadn’t, it feels like MacFarlane and his crew are taking a sizable step backwards.”
From The New York Times:
“The Orville seems to be less about comedy or science-fiction than about Ed Mercer’s middle-age angst, expressed primarily through his peevish anger toward his ex-wife. One last question about The Orville: why bother, when Galaxy Quest did such a wonderful, warm-hearted job of sending up the Star Trek cosmos almost 20 years ago?”
“You sense a profound attempt here, a fan grasping toward something long lost. This isn’t a spoof of Star Trek, nor some lacerating satire. It only tries to be funny sometimes (and usually fails). I share MacFarlane’s yearning for the lost wonder of Star Trek, but I don’t need to watch brand new C-level Next Generation episodes, especially not when some creative force behind the scenes keeps tossing out unfunny crude gags.”
From A.V. Club:
“Ultimately, the most damning thing you can say about The Orville is that there isn’t that much to say about The Orville. While first episodes are burdened with the ungrateful work of exposition and world-building often at the expense of hilarity, it all still feels very slight.”
“The Orville is not, as it turns out, the Galaxy Quest-style spoof Fox has been selling in its ads. In fact, The Orville isn’t particularly funny at all, both by design and accidental ineptitude. Instead, it’s a bizarrely straight-up homage to Star Trek that can’t seem to admit as much. The Orville, earnest and hopelessly scattered, makes for one of the most perplexingly conceived new shows I’ve seen in a long while.
“It becomes clear halfway through the first episode that MacFarlane has no idea how to fill out a full 40 minutes of broadcast television. Scenes drag on for minutes beyond their natural endings, and by the third episode, different combinations of characters just start having the literal same conversation twice.”
There are the outliers, however — some critics and fans think The Orville is classic MacFarlane, bringing the laughs like his other shows.
“It’s not a perfect show. Some of the jokes do fall flat,” writes Erik Kain at Forbes. “But I love its spirit. I love that someone is actually trying to make a Star Trek show that isn’t just filled with explosions, space battles and gritty action. It’s fun and kind of sweet and I’m happy it’s a thing, however weird and unexpected it might be.”
Barring a big turnaround, it sounds like it may be a one-season trip around the universe for The Orville.