A TV show on Hulu
Perhaps one of the more underrated science fiction shows of this past decade is Seth MacFarlane’s Hulu original The Orville. Originally a production from pre-Disney Fox, the show really found its legs in its second season and has grown to even surpass that in season three so far. I’m going to be honest here and point out that I originally was not a fan of the show. I felt like the beginning of season one was exactly what I feared it to be – “Family Guy in space”. While I know some people enjoyed this, any trip on the Internet will show you that some are disinterested in the show now that it dropped a lot of its comedic overtones, but I feel that the humor actually works better NOW when it does happen versus the laugh a minute sitcom style that it initially had. Honestly, I think Seth used the humor to get the show greenlit and draw in viewers only to bait and switch the audience on his real goal, a Star Trek the Next Generation thematic love letter.
I recall when I originally watched the show that it was not until an episode early on that dealt with the cultural implications of an alien race that insists on forcibly re-gendering all children to male as per tradition. It was the sort of in-your-face social commentary that Star Trek would occasionally dance around but never hit full on. We all know from years of watching his shows that Seth MacFarlane pulls no punches and doesn’t pussyfoot around topics, and preachy or not we live in a political climate wherein such preachiness is honestly warranted. So after a long Covid-delaying wait, here we are at the beginnings of season 3 of the show, and so far I am absolutely loving it. This is a look at Episodes 1-5 and why everyone should be watching this, spoilers will be here, but I will try to keep them mild.
- The Orville: New Horizons episode 1, “Electric Sheep” – “The crew deals with the aftermath of the Kaylon battle.”
- The Orville: New Horizons episode 2, “Shadow Realms” – “The Orville crew embarks on a mission to explore a dangerous region of Krill space.”
- The Orville: New Horizons episode 3, “Mortality Paradox” – “The crew makes a new discovery.”
- The Orville: New Horizons episode 4, “Gently Falling Rain” – “The crew leads a Union delegation to sign a peace treaty with the Krill.”
- The Orville: New Horizons episode 5, “A Tale of Two Topas” – “Kelly helps Topa prepare for the Union Point entrance exam, causing tension with the Moclans.”
Right out of the gate I’m going to say that this is potentially one of the strongest first halves of any season of television I’ve seen in quite a while. Even when Doctor Who was in its heyday and hitting on all cylinders after its 2005 relaunch, not every single episode was that strong. Here, we have five incredibly strong episodes two of which honestly should be Emmy contenders if the governing body that nominates stuff from that has any sense. The fact that the writers even attempted to take on such insanely heavy topics such as suicide as in episode one, and trans rights as in episode 5, shows just how ballsy they are. Both episodes were given time to breathe due to not being hampered by a set runtime, Which I feel made them that much more powerful. The rest of the episodes are very solid: episode two deals with exploration and the fact that not every alien life form that we come across is likely to be understandable to a human, episode three is a playful altered reality sort of episode – somewhat like a Q episode of Star Trek, and finally we have Seth McFarlane’s take on the rise of populism in politics and far-right extremism.
I’m sure some would find these episodes preachy, and I have a very strong suspicion that most conservatives of the “Red Hat” variety are not going to be a fan of the messaging and plots within these episodes. Then again shows like this largely always call out that sort of thinking, which is quite baffling considering how many extreme far right folks seem to always plague various Star Trek related Facebook groups. I apologize if my opinion angers anyone on here, but I feel that utopian science fiction is largely the opposite of most policies and viewpoints found in that sort of political thought, and that’s all I will say on it from this point forward.
New Horizons continues with largely the same cast that was in season 2, even Lt. Yaphit the lovable pile of goo voiced by the late Norm MacDonald who I assume did all his voice work prior to his death. There is one notable addition to the cast in an actress named Anne Winters as ensign Charly Burke. Burke is a very interesting character in her first outing in the role considering her absolute disdain for the character Isaac, blaming him for the atrocities committed by his race. She softens up a bit as the season goes, but as with every character in The Orville she’s very complicated and comes with a distinct set of character traits that most shows like this do not dive into. It will be interesting to see how the character grows, and especially her interactions with Isaac.
This season also has some fun cameos and guest appearances such as Bruce Boxleitner as Union President Alcazar. All that said, the MVP award for the best actor and honestly overall best character in the show in season 3 has to be Peter Macon as Lieutenant Commander Bortus, a character that despite being wrapped in what appears to be 40 pounds of rubber masks and makeup, puts a lot of dramatic actors to shame here. I’m going to be honest that the type of character that Bortus is, the stoic war-like alien that doesn’t quite understand human culture, is always my favorite type of character in any sort of science fiction show, but he still goes the extra mile in this season. I’m sure Penny Johnson Jerald will take her crown back soon enough as Dr. Claire Finn is almost always the best character in the show otherwise.
I think one of the best things about New Horizons is possibly going to be an issue for the show moving forward and that is the budget. This show looks absolutely fantastic, I’m not sure if Hulu are spending more money on the episodes vs Fox but it absolutely looks like they are with some of the special effects rivaling that of Hollywood movies this time around. Alien worlds are lush and vibrant and unlike other genre television shows they aren’t filmed entirely in the same forest in Canada. Granted, most of this is probably all done through green screen in computer generated effects, but I really hope that the show can maintain enough of an audience that Hulu will see this as one of their pillars in their original programming wheelhouse.
If you are a fan of the last two seasons of The Orville, or possibly a lapsed Star Trek fan, I cannot recommend the show enough and hope that fans can build enough goodwill with the network that its production continues long into the future. I still have five episodes to watch this season, but I don’t feel that that will sufficiently wrap everything up in a way that will make me sit there and think, “yeah this is good as it stands”. if you can handle the political messaging within the show and have a good sense of humor The Orville: New Horizons has been must watch TV for me and honestly the main reason to have Hulu right now.