Why Seth McFarlane’s ‘Star Trek’ Parody Could Be Great (But Will Probably Be Awful)

Matthew Loffhagen
Seth McFarlane
(Photo: Seth McFarlane)

EDIT: Since we published this article, Fox has released a full trailer for The Orville, and it looks pretty good, all things considered. That said, the rest of our commentary (below the video) still stands. Seth McFarlane’s an odd fellow at the best of times.

There’s a new science fiction show coming to Fox next season.

No, not just The Gifted, something else. Something (hopefully) funny.

From the creator of Family Guy and A Million Ways to Die in the West comes The Orville, and, as the internet has been quick to point out, it basically looks like the Galaxy Quest series we’ve always wanted.

Not much is known about the plot of this show – we can assume that it probably features plenty of Star Trek inspired sci-fi nonsense, but that’s all we really know at this point.

That, and, of course, this is the work of Seth McFarlane. That’s enough in and of itself to leave people conflicted.

Seth McFarlane’s ever-growing body of comedic work is polarizing to say the least. Some people write off Family Guy as a shallow Simpsons knock-off, while to others, it’s a revolution in animated entertainment.

Ditto for McFarlane’s eleventy billion other animated shows, all of which follow exactly the same formula, with little to no variations. Either you think these are the greatest cartoons that have ever been broadcast, or you’re suspicious that the whole endeavor is an attempt to see how much money can be made from recycling the same plot over and over and over.

McFarlane’s live action work hasn’t succeeded in quite the same way as his extensive catalogue of cartoons, but it does have a loyal following. Plenty of people enjoy Ted and its sequel, even if the rest of humanity roll their eyes at McFarlane again reusing the core concept of “a cute thing isn’t cute after all”.

A Million Ways to Die in the West has its fans. Well, we assume it does, even if they clearly didn’t bother turning up to actually see the thing while it was in theaters. A cool 33% on Rotten Tomatoes tells you everything you need to know about how popular this particular movie is, even with die hard McFarlane fans (McFanlanes?)

But while a slowly dwindling core audience of fans might suggest that McFarlane’s brand of oh so awkward humor is on the way out, there is a need for a Star Trek show that modern television simply isn’t providing.

CBS is still failing to get anywhere serious with Discovery, despite being part-way through filming. The Orville was probably designed to take advantage of the new official Star Trek show, but instead it looks like this parody will beat the real deal onto televisions.

Fans of science fiction will no doubt be thrilled at the idea of sending up the classic Star Trek formula. Galaxy Quest  is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential for parodying this setting. There are red shirts to be murdered, alien women to be stereotyped, and portly captains to be ridiculed, all in the name of closely examining one of the more enduring myths of popular culture.

So the question remains: will The Orville be the kind of frank, smart analysis of science fiction tropes that we need?

Probably not. In reality, it’ll likely be filled with the same dumb humor that McFarlane has built his reputation on. But if his other comedic works have proven anything, it’s that there’s definitely a cult audience for this sort of this, and if we’re lucky, there’ll be enough in this show for everyone, no matter their tastes in humor to appreciate.

At least, that’s the hope. Otherwise, we’re waiting until the eventual debut of Star Trek Discovery to get a healthy dose of spacefaring goodness.

At this rate, though, that show will come out some time around the turn of the century, by which point we might be living Star Trek in real life.

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