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The Orville Showed Everyone Exactly What Kind of Show it Is

The Orville Showed Everyone Exactly What Kind of Show it Is

first_imgStay on target The Orville has been a puzzling show for its first two episodes. Marketed as a joke-filled Family Guy-style comedy in space, it was surprising to find something much more subdued. There are dick and fart jokes to be sure, but there aren’t nearly as many as the show’s TV spots lead us to believe. The ones that are there feel almost obligatory. Like Seth MacFarlane really wanted to make a serious Star Trek: The Next Generation remake and was forced to put jokes in it, either by his own lack of confidence in the idea or by a network hoping to avoid getting sued by claiming parody. Whatever the reason, it made for a tonally weird show.Last night, The Orville moved to its regular Thursday night timeslot and delivered its first stab at the kind of thoughtful, allegorical sci-fi Star Trek is celebrated for. It went… better than I expected, actually. After hearing reactions from critics who saw it early, I was ready for this episode to be The Orville’s “Code of Honor.” (For anyone not well-versed in Trek history, that was TNG’s infamous, embarrassingly racist first season episode, over which a writer was fired.) “About of Girl” wasn’t quite that bad. This episode picks up right where last Sunday’s left off. Bortus and Klyden, members of a purportedly all-male species, have just given birth to a girl. Since being born female is seen as a birth defect, they want to give the baby a sex change. Basically, everyone else on the ship is against it. They all try different methods of convincing Bortus that being a girl is OK. The one that works, oddly enough, is showing him the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. This show’s obsession with 20th-century pop culture grows less plausible by the episode. Was there really no notable art created between the year 2000 and 24xx? Is this entire ship made up of people that only watch/listen to “the classics?” In any case, it at least leads to a couple of decent jokes. It’s funny to hear Bortus make impassioned speeches about the importance of Rudolph’s tale.Deobia Oparei, Adrianne Palicki and Seth MacFarlane (Cr: Michael Becker/FOX.)This is the least joke-filled episode The Orville has had so far. Instead, it’s an earnest shot at a Trek-style sociological debate. The question it asks is, is it ethical to force a child to grow up in a society that shuns her if you have the option to prevent it? Surprisingly, it handles the cultural relativism debate pretty well, acknowledging that there really is no easy answer to the question, even if we find the idea of performing a sex change on an infant reprehensible. This is an episode that swung for the fences and took a big risk with its story. It didn’t pay off completely, but I respect it for trying. If nothing else, it made for a much more interesting episode than either of the previous two.The whole thing falls apart in a couple of different ways. First, by conflating gender with biology. The two are not the same thing, and the episode treats them as though they are. It’s never part of the debate. In fact, the episode, despite the loaded subject matter, doesn’t seem to be interested in talking about trans issues at all. It awkwardly pivots the allegory into a debate over circumcision. There’s one moment where Bortus’s mate, Klyden reveals that he was born female and was grateful that his parents gave him the surgery. That’s a really interesting detail that’s just glossed over. First of all, it implies that Moclan females are born much more frequently than we’ve been told. Second, it gave the episode a chance to dive into Klyden’s background. How did being born biologically female shape his adolescence, his feelings about himself growing up in a society where being a woman is seen as a birth defect? None of that is explored at all, and it’s a real missed opportunity.J Lee, Halston Sage and Seth MacFarlane (Cr: Jordin Althaus/FOX)Then, during the classic Trek-style trial, we learn that this all-male society thinks of women as weaker and less intelligent than men, and that’s why they consider it a birth defect. The trial then sets about proving that woman can be smarter and stronger than men, instead of asking the bigger question. Why do they think that? How did an all-male society get this idea? With no women around, how would a stereotype even form? It felt like the writers were ascribing known human sexist prejudices to this alien race, without really thinking about what kind of society an all (or mostly) male species would create. Instead of picking apart what gender means in our society and in a hypothetical one, the writers relied on established tropes. The Moclans were reduced to strawmen. I know it sounds like I’m asking for a lot from MacFarlane, but if he wants to make Trek, I’m going to judge it like it’s Trek.The episode ends on a downer. Despite Captain Mercer revealing that the greatest Moclan writer to ever live is a woman living in exile, nothing changes. The procedure is carried out, Bortus and Klyden have a damaged relationship, but Bortus promises to love his child whatever he (or she) chooses to be. I feel like the show cheated us out of a future story that could be something special. What does it look like for a Moclin to grow up as a young girl? What happens as a uniformly patriarchal society begins to change. We’ll never know now, because neither of those things happened. So what was the point of this episode?Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki (Cr: Michael Becker/FOX.)In different ways, this was both the best and worst episode of The Orville so far. It’s no wonder it’s so polarizing. It’s the best because it succeeds in breaking out of the box the first two episodes put it in. It finally showed us exactly what kind of series it wants to be. It’s not a parody of Trek, it wants to be Trek, and it’s willing to take some risks to get there. That’s admirable. Given that, I don’t even mind the occasional joke. The show just needs to work on how it delivers them. As of now, they seem to come out of nowhere. Like somebody started writing a completely different show in the middle of a scene. Once they get that worked out, The Orville could become a fine Trek-alike.“About a Girl” was also the worst episode because for everything it tried, Seth MacFarlane just doesn’t have the vocabulary or nuance to handle a topic like this. He makes some avoidable mistakes, risks coming across as transphobic, then changes the subject to something easier to handle. In the hands of a better writer, this maybe could have been the Trek-style allegory it was trying to be. Then again, that writer might not have taken on a story about an infant sex change in the first place. The Orville showed us all what kind of show it wants to be. Hopefully, this episode is just a growing pain on the way there.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. How Designers Achieved the Sci-Fi Sound Magic of ‘The Orville’The Orville Brings a Much Better Trailer to SDCC last_img read more