Is Seth MacFarlane’s Orville series treading on thin ice?


It turns out Seth MacFarlane’s “Orville” series is less Star Trek spoof than was portrayed in the show’s promo trailer, and similarities may be problematic.

If you watched the trailer for Seth MacFarlane’s “Orville” series and thought it appeared to be a spoof of Star Trek, you weren’t alone. My own Trek-hating brother-in-law sent me the video and praised it highly. Personally, I enjoy spoofs of shows and concepts that are close to my heart, so I was on board and ready to watch MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, and other projects) make fun of my favorite show.

However, it turns out that Orville is far from a spoof. While clearly heavily derivative of Star Trek, it’s a series intended to stand on its own two feet. In fact, it appears that virtually every joke in the pilot was stripped out and inserted into the trailer, essentially to frame it as a spoof.

Per IGN:

"“If this were a half hour, it would be kind of cut and dry what this is. Because we’re an hour-long show, the story kind of has to come first. It can’t just be gag gag gag gag gag. There has to be some reality to where the comedy comes from,” said MacFarlane. “We really do see it as a sci-fi comedic drama. We allow ourselves room for levity in the way that a traditional sci-fi show doesn’t. We’re trying to break new ground here.”"

MacFarlane intends this to be a show that can exist alongside Star Trek, particularly the Discovery iteration which is set to debut two weeks after Orville. This is his effort to strike back at the dystopian future typically envisioned in modern science fiction.

"“I’m tired of being told everything is grim and dystopian and people are going to be murdered for food. I miss the hopeful side of science fiction,” he said. “Now things are very grim.”"

The problem with MacFarlane’s stance is that sci-fi (particlularly Star Trek) tends to reflect the societal conditions in the era in which the material is written. The original series reflected an awe of the unknown as humanity (in the real world) had just started dipping its toe into the reaches of space, all while balancing itself against the internal strife of the United States, the Cold War and a war being fought in Vietnam.

Related Story: Inside the Star Trek: Discovery writing room

Conversely, in the booming 1990’s, Star Trek: The Next Generation has been compared to a hotel in space. Less of a morality play or instruction for the future of humanity, it focused more heavily on character development and story-telling. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with missing those heady days of yore, but Star Trek is at its best when it is pushing and probing society to the point where it can become a bit uncomfortable.

Whether Orville will be permitted to exist alongside Star Trek in the same space remains to be seen. It’s clear that Orville is derivative of Trek, in addition to The Twilight Zone and other works of science fiction, but Paramount and CBS have been flexing their legal muscles with Star Trek fan-fiction, so a competing series running concurrently on the same day may yet be problematic.

Fox TV Group Chairman/CEO Dana Walden was asked if she anticipated being sued:

"“We’re not really concerned,” Walden said. “We obviously have a big legal team. We vet things, so it’s not like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants out here. Seth’s intention is to do something that clearly pays homage to Star Trek, that clearly was inspired a lot by Star Trek.”"

Next: It's time to get excited about Discovery's Klingons

While ultimately I’m biased in favor of Star Trek and its best interests, I hope that neither Paramount or CBS obstruct Orville. It could be interesting to see these shows compete.