Those expecting a "Galaxy-Quest-For-TV" sci-fi spoof will be sadly disappointed in The Orville Season 1 Episode 1.
This isn't Family Guy in space. It doesn't have an American Dad in sight. It's actually (dare I say it?) pretty darn smart.
There are awesome past and present examples of shows that present the lighter side to serious professions. Scrubs gave hospitals a sense of humor. Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sirens make their bones on the funny, personal side of policing.
Lawyers have been hitting an absurdist note since Ally McBeal.
LaMarr: What did you do? Your piloting skills are kind of legendary. How'd you get suspended?
Malloy: I let my cousin shoot a porno in the back of a shuttle in exchange for some pills.
So why not a human, accessible, and funny approach to the very serious (if still largely theoretical) profession of space exploration?
In the opening scene, we meet Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) in the classic situation of returning home from work to find his wife (Adrianne Palicki) in bed with her lover. Of course, it being the year 2418, the lover is a blue alien who apparently ejaculates through his face, but it's a familiar set-up.
Grayson: You just shut off from our relationship. I didn't know how to handle it.
Mercer: So you banged Papa Smurf. In our bed. That's one way to handle it.
Grayson: Darulio was there when you weren't.
A year later, Mercer is still recovering from his divorce when he is given his very first command position. The Admiral (Victor Garber) makes it very clear that this is pretty much his last chance to prove himself worthy.
Mercer recognizes he's on thin ice and desperately wants this to work out.
Mercer: I've had some personal stuff that's been going on... It's not really worth going into... Can I have one of these mints?
Admiral: Those are marbles.
It's a new show, a new take on space sci-fi, but so much of it feels so familiar.
Mercer's best friend, Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) is the best helmsman in the Planetary Union but has been grounded for shenanigans. From the looks of things, he hasn't really learned his lesson and that could be FUN.
Bortus: Well done, Lieutenant.
Malloy: Sir, since I pulled that off, can I please wear shorts to work?
Bortus: I've already said no.
And the crew is the expected rag-tag band of misfits. A young, super strong, security officer. An over-qualified medical officer. A mechanical science and engineering officer.
(By the way, Mark Jackson as the almost faceless silver Isaac pulls off an amazing Brent-Spiner-as-Lt. Commander Data impression)
MacFarlane and team have brought in new aliens for The Orville which I appreciate. Norm MacDonald voices a gelatinous blob named Yaphit and is credited for four episodes in the first season which is probably the perfect amount of Norm MacDonald time to have in a series.
The novelty of The Orville is the accessibility of the characters and relationships.
We can see that Alara, the security officer has confidence issues. Halston Sage looks about ninety pounds soaking wet but she's the crew's own super hero.
The easy camaraderie and banter between Malloy and navigator LaMarr (J.Lee) is believable.
Malloy: This is something I call Hugging the Donkey
LaMarr: You can Hug the Donkey?
Mallow: Dude, I've been Hugging the Donkey since flight school
And Lt. Commander Bortus' demeanor is exactly what we'd expect if Worf had been command stream rather than Security.
A premiere episode of a show like this is always tricky. Relationships need to be established quickly. Banter needs to incorporate miles of exposition without seeming to.
Mercer: I know Gordon has his issues but we all know that there's nobody that can drive a starship like him.
Admiral: Didn't he once draw a penis on the main viewing screen of Outpost T-85?
Mercer: He's drawn a lot of penises on a lot of things.
What's neat is that the creative team of The Orville has used old television tropes to their advantage and, mostly, it seems to work.
Need to throw a wrench into Captain Mercer's dream job? Why not make his First Officer his cheating ex-wife? Done.
Grayson: I literally bailed on my own crewmates to come here.
Mercer: Well you bailed on a whole marriage so I imagine that was a piece of cake for you.
Need to incapacitate an armed enemy in a small shuttle craft? Why not hit the brakes? Done.
Mercer: Alright, he's got a gun. We have something better.
Need to demonstrate the perfect pairing of our central couple? How about a quick back-and-forth about the danger of fruit? Double done.
Mercer: So... it's an anti-banana ray.
Grayson: That's really interesting.
Mercer: We need no longer fear the banana.
Grayson: Does it work on all fruit?
Mercer: What about salads?
Beyond establishing all this in a short hour, there needs to be ADVENTURE in a space exploration show. Something to prove that The Orville isn't just the Planet Express delivery ship from Futurama and introduce the Planetary Union's nemesis, the Krill.
The nitty-gritty of space sci-fi usually depends a lot on the audience just accepting the rules of the 'verse. So when Mercer expresses boredom at the Epsilon-2 scientific discover, it's kind of refreshing.
When Dr. Aranov has to ask who Alara is, it's a subtle jab at the perfectly eidetic memory of all sci-fi characters that have come before.
When Mercer and Grayson involve the Krill captain in a discussion about how their marriage broke down... Well, maybe it crossed a line. But it was pretty funny.
The single moment that I couldn't suspend my disbelief for in the premiere was the shuttle "barn swallow" maneuver they execute at the end. But maybe that's just me. And the laws of physics. All physics. Even in the year 2419.
For all its unexpected elements, I think this show is worth following for a while. The characters need time to round out and the world needs to develop a bit but a show where the first adventure is saved by seatbelts and a tree? There's an elegant genius behind that.
Missed the premiere? You can watch The Orville online or catch the encore presentation this week on FOX.
Did The Orville pop your corn or wasn't it the Wright fit? Let us know! Sorry about the puns.
P.S. Am I the only person constantly surprised when Seth MacFarlane turns out NOT to look like Peter Griffin? Probably.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.