How many shows currently on television present hope as a main theme? The answer is ‘a few’. The Orville is perhaps the best. For almost a decade, the trend across all platforms has been dystopic, melodramatic, suspenseful action. In fact, since 2001 the overall tendency has been toward a gritty and violent setting where the main characters are just as much at odds with each other as they may be with any antagonists. For many fans of space-based sci-fi, the idea of hope and perseverance are key components to an enjoyable and thought provoking show.
What Seth MacFarlane has done, along with Brannon Braga, Jonathan Frakes, and multiple other sci-fi veterans, is bring to the small screen the exact kind of show that is needed to bring hope to its fans. The notions of peril and danger, while present, are not overwhelmingly prevalent. This idea, to seat optimism in a vision of the future, is not new, but has been seemingly absent for too long, most especially from sci-fi. Many shows focus too closely on the potential perils of the future, and how we must fight to remain human, if not humane. The Orville suggests, subtly, that what we must do, is strive to grow, and all the while keep our collective egos in check while we do.
The characters are already well-developed, the premise is in keeping with long-held sci-fi traditions, and the episodic nature of the show allows for flexible story telling that can cover multiple topics and story lines. What is perhaps more important than the structure of the show is the humoristic skew that it provides. Humor is not new in TV, or sci-fi for that matter, but for it to permeate throughout a series (or even just an episode) the way it does on The Orville is almost reason enough to watch. Humor gives both the writers and the fans a new dimension to experience with a sci-fi show with a 44 minute run time. A dimension that many recognize has been missing from much of TV for some time now.
The show had its detractors even before it aired; primarily because of MacFarlane’s involvement and his previous bouts of controversial humor and social commentary. However, thus far the manner in which sensitive topics have been handled is more-or-less in keeping with decency, empathy, and a sense of timeliness. The ability to not take oneself too seriously is perhaps just what is necessary when confronting issues that seem insurmountable. This is what MacFarlane and his team have brought to TV; an honest and funny look at the human condition.
Being set 400 years in the future allows the show to tackle current social issues behind the veil of being something sci-fi, also demonstrating that humans are not as likely to evolve much in the next four centuries as one might hope. This is not an easy task, to peer into the zeitgeist and be sincere, all the while finding ways to keep the audience laughing, but, to be sure, The Orville has set its course true and is not wavering.