THE ORVILLE – not bad for a STAR TREK FAN FILM! (editorial/review)

At first, I was thinking, “Yeesh!  This is as bad as the critics were saying!”  I thought of all the things I could say to try to sugarcoat my disappointment in this new series that I’d been looking forward to all summer.  “Hey, the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation wasn’t much to write home about either.”  (And it wasn’t!)  “Come to think of it, the pilots for DS9 and especially Voyager kinda sucked, too.”

But hey, if you’re gonna try to prop up the pilot of a new series by saying that other pilots sucked, too, then you’re pretty much admitting that the pilot for The Orville sucked, right?  And even if TNG, DS9, and Voyager eventually did get better, there was no guarantee that The Orville would follow suit.

But then a strange thing happened: it did get better!

In fact, by the time the episode came back from the midway 30-minute commercial break, the pilot was actually quite a lot of fun to watch.  It was exciting, engaging, well-paced, and intelligent.  Even the stupid jokes weren’t falling quite as flat as they had in the first two acts.

The first half of The Orville‘s pilot was so obviously a Star Trek fan film that I actually though I WAS watching a Star Trek fan film…just one that tried to change enough things so it wouldn’t get sued for violating most of the CBS/Paramount Star Trek fan film guidelines!

And in fact, The Orville doesn’t really try to hide its fannish admiration (specifically, Seth MacFarlane’s admiration) for the venerable series…including an abundance of scenes and sequences reminiscent of cherished moments from the rich 51-year history of Star Trek

Yeah, look familiar?

And while I have a “prime directive” here on Fan Film Factor that says “there’s no such thing as a bad Star Trek fan film,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all amazingly good either.

Many fan films fall into the trap of setting up too much backstory and providing way too much up-front exposition.  It’s all right to explain things, just don’t over-explain things…and don’t feel the need to “front-load” all the stuff you do explain.  The best fan films avoid this.  The worst are the ones with three-minutes of scrolling explanations before the opening credits and then each character introduces him or herself with their resume, family tree, and all the people they know on the ship and how they know them (and likely pissed them off or really impressed them).

This kind of front-loaded set-up began to happen with The Orville, and it  looked like it was going to drag the new series down with it.  So what changed?

The short answer is, they finally stopped with all the set-up and exposition and character introductions and just got on with the STORY.  As I told a certain well-known fan film producer recently when I read his script: “Show, don’t tell.”  Once the pilot episode reached the half-way point, the Orville writers stopped TELLING and began SHOWING.  Don’t just SAY the helmsman is the best pilot out there, SHOW it.  Don’t just SAY the security chief is super-strong, SHOW it.  If Captain Ed Mercer is really a qualified commanding officer and not just a bitter screw-up, then SHOW it.

And they did.  It just took them all 30 mind-numbing minutes to get all the goddam TELLING out of their systems!  Unfortunately, that first half hour was enough to create a negative first impression for many critics—not all, but the Tomatometer was at 11% the last time I checked.  On the other hand, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes was 85%.  Do the viewers know something the critics don’t?

(Yeah, how about: WATCH THE WHOLE FRICKIN’ EPISODE, YOU SHORT-ATTENTION-SPAN HACKS!!!!)

Ahem.

When it comes right down to it, what will make or break this new series more than anything else is a very simple question: do viewers care about the characters?  With all my favorite shows, I care about the characters, and I want to see more of their STORIES.  The visual effects might be awesome (and in the case of The Orville, they certainly are…you did a superb job on the CGI, Gabe K.!), but visual effects alone won’t do it.  Cool story concepts, as well, aren’t enough just by themselves.  But when you add that to really interesting, fun, and engaging CHARACTERS that I care about, then you’ve hooked me.    I didn’t start watching The Walking Dead for the zombies.  I didn’t get hooked on Once Upon A Time just for the idea of fairy tales becoming real.  It was the CHARACTERS!

And so it is with The Orville.  I like these Planetary Union officers.  They’re fun.  They’re real to me (or as real as an all-male species with no sense of humor and a polite-but-racist robot can be!)…and that was the same thing that made me love Star Trek so much.  Sure, Vulcans aren’t real, and no human kisses that many alien women while commanding a starship.  But somehow, Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk and all of the rest of them were real for me growing up.  And as the other Star Trek series emerged, so did even more characters I cared about: Picard, Data, Worf, Sisko, Odo, Jadzia Dax, O’Brien, Quark, Garak, Janeway, Seven-of-Nine, even the Emergency Medical Hologram.  Maybe I’ll care about Commander Michael Burnham of the USS Discovery and her crew mates, as well.  If I do, then I’ll be as loyal to Star Trek: Discovery as I plan to be to The Orville.

And I do plan to be loyal to The Orville.  They didn’t have me at “hello” (or rather, “honey, I’m home…you in the bedroom?”), but they did have me for the second half of of the pilot episode.  And that was enough because, when they did grab me, they really grabbed me.

I just hope there’s more viewers like me out there because I want to see LOTS more stories about these characters.  Engage quantum drive!

62 thoughts on “THE ORVILLE – not bad for a STAR TREK FAN FILM! (editorial/review)”

  1. I want to see any other film you got on this?, last night sat sep-9 i was the other star trek film and i will not tell no one to go see it. I will rate it a C- and it is not G or PG, i will reat it a only a R film it is not for everyone. It is not good for younger person ok. If you are a star trek fan i think this film came from you know who by this J J. It will be comeing out by next week this month.

  2. While I already enjoyed the first half, you’re absolutely right, the second half nailed it and I’m looking forward to more stories of The Orville!

    1. My name is Kenneth Smith From Rancho Cordova CA and i just saw the tv show to and i can tell you that i can rate it a C- as for the first show?, now let’s see how the other’s will work out?.

  3. What do you mean “even the Emergency Medical Hologram”? *Especially* the Emergency Medical Hologram! And thanks for this post: one more reason why I should definitely watch The Orville, it seems… if it ever reaches my side of the ocean (I’m in France). I hope I can get a full season pass here one way or another.

          1. Though fox.com seems to work through Opera’s “VPN” when it’s set in the US. \o/ But I guess I shouldn’t tell, or they’ll do their best to prevent it from working…

  4. SHOOT! Just woke up to find out I missed the Dang premier. I need to find a re-play now. And a glowing review only hurts that much more. I better set a reminder for Discovery, unless I miss that one too

    1. FOX is repeating the first episode later tonight (Tuesday) after the multi-network hurricane charity special, and it’s available on demand and on iTunes.

      It’s due to move to Thursdays after the second episode, though with those numbers I wouldn’t be surprised if it keeps its Sunday slot, at least until the animated shows (Seth’s included) all return.

  5. I agree whole heartedly. I hope Seth moves away from the potty humor, keeps the silly banter like the Banana ray scene and other than that, the actors start to feel comfortable in their new skins so like every Star trek series, they are firing on all cylinders and getting better and the show goes along. I expect a few clunkers, but even the original Trek and Next Generation had massive clunky episodes (Any episode with Majel playing Troy’s mother were hard to watch). I have hope that this will be the series we all want, done with good acting, solid, smart alecky dialogue when appropriate and interesting stories that portray a positive future for the human race. A nice change from what is mostly on TV now.

  6. I am so very happy you are consistent, the first part of your review had me worried for a sec (I should have known lol), but you gave a biased and unbiased take on what you found (damn glad to have you out there doing what we visit your page to see you doing, GJ and thank you). I would not worry so much about critics, they are bought and sold by what they “imagine” will be popular opinion, and a preconceived notion of what they will be reviewing (sort of like when grampa looks at a new “fad” and knee-jerks it to scoff…..time will tell, development will tell, and, more importantly, fan support….will tell (not always, but it has been done before). Mr.Macfarlane has shown that, even though he does lowbrow quite well, he can throw decent cerebral into the mix, let’s hope he finds a decent balance for the venue this time as well……To great entertainment, and BEYOND….(yea I know, but it fit).

  7. Candidly, I was simply disappointed. Seth, once again, appears only capable of conveying his 21st century impersonation of a bad/crude Mel Brooks movie. On the other hand, Mell had some terrific movies too, so will give it a few more episodes hoping it does better. Really wanted the hilarious humor of Galaxy Quest, and without any crude innuendo.

  8. Glad to hear it – I only caught the first half in a restaurant and it sure seemed like a stinker at that point. I’ve got the whole episode queues up on the DVR and now will go watch it.

    1. Now here this. Crom my point of view fox network is now going to dige a real big hole and they are telling both CBS And Parmount to show how far they are going with us with this show. I just saw episode #4 and it is now calling both of them how they are action with us and star trek. The more they go with this t.v. show at PG-14 and trying to look for the best time for this t.v. show by November-2017 this show will be short lived on fox, i do think you all who do see this tv show it is not going to make it every far here. I have saw everyone letters on here you to don’t like it as well to. I am rate it a F tv show..

  9. Did the first 30 minutes fall flat because you already saw most of it in the ads and commercials multiple times? One thing I will say is that the ads didn’t have the entire context. I won’t give specific examples to avoid spoilers but I did gain better perspective on why the characters are the way they are and quickly setup how the interactions between each other will play out.

    1. Some of the commercial/trailer content was from the second half, like asking the Krill to move more into the center of the screen. But no, the first half fell flat simply because it wasn’t that good. Too much exposition. But that’s a choice. “Get it all out of the way first and then forge ahead” is, in fact, a valid writing strategy. It’s also easier and lazier. It’s more difficult NOT to introduce every character up front and instead to let them play in the sandbox for a while first without providing the “411” on who and what they are. On the other hand, with all the exposition out of the way, the rest of the episode can just focus on nothing but the story.

    1. I wonder what fans will think two or three seasons in (assuming the series lasts that long,; I hope it does), looking back on the “dog licking its balls” scene. Will that be a “cherished” moment or a cringe-worthy memory of a direction the show ultimately steered away from?

      Maybe we’ll see…

  10. You’re right about Seth’s homage to Star Trek. In fact my wife who not a Sci-fi fan at all, thought it was the next Star Trek series that I’ve been talking about. The first 30 minutes was disappointing to me for the same reasons you listed. But the second 30 minutes did pick up and with the scenes from future episodes showed at the end, I’ll give it another go.

  11. I’m busy so I’ve had to webi-sode it. Which means I’m about 5-10 minutes in and it may take me until tomorrow to see the whole thing. Good to hear I’ve got lots to look forward to.. My first takes were that it is very sitcom-ish up front.. and the critics may have tossed it into the traditional “Must-See TV” genera and didn’t bother to watch the whole episode. So as far as I’ve seen I agree they do too much backstory up front. — its a bad omen since FOX traditionally lets a show live or die by the ratings on the first episode.. leaving the audience to go.. “wait what was that?” a few weeks later.

    1. Seth MacFarlane is a golden boy at Fox, and there’s a lot of start-up capital invested in these sets and models. I suspect Fox will give the series a chance to find its audience rather than dumping it quickly. We’ll see.

  12. “do viewers care about the characters?”

    My wife who is an “anti-nerd” when it comes to Star Trek and who watched the show only because everything else we could find was terrible, liked the characters and thought they had more potential than certain other Trek ones not to be named to avoid fights here about “real” trek. She thought that the characters seemed more real in spite of the hokey first 30 minute setup “humor”.

    Yeah, she did spot all the homages to Trek until I asked her to stop telling me about each one. And my wife is very sensitive to marital turmoil scenes due to the first years of our marriage (nothing as bad as the setup in the first episode) but the raw emotion was too close which meant it was real to her.

    And I basically agree with the final half was much better than the first half. Without giving the plot away, the way that the Krill ship was dispatched had us both saying to each other with pleasure “now THAT was different” and it justified the original plot setup in spades.

    And the final scene with the Admiral did, as you said, show what all the words earlier had claimed.

    Afterwords my wife said she was willing to watch another episode. And THAT from a person who dislikes SF in all its forms, meant more to me than the gazillion nay-saying reviewers. So when I saw the viewers vs reviewers image earlier, my thought was “she’s not alone”.

  13. Haven’t seen the first episode yet, but I am going to check it out tonight on free streaming for sure… P 🙂

  14. Okay, my one disagreement with Jonathan on one point. I actually thought introducing the characters in the first half kind of worked. Why was Ed not their first choice? Now we know. Why could Alaa knock down the door? Now we know. As far as how it develops, at least the only thing it will cost us to find out is a little free time.

    1. My point was kinda that it was done all at once in a very slow scene on the hangar deck. Mercer goes through all the section chiefs, providing full exposition for each as he runs down his checklist. The scene itself drags. I’m not saying the writers couldn’t have introduced all the main characters in the first half…just maybe not all at once and in the exact same way for each.

      1. I agree that was a little long, but if that’s as bad as it gets, I think the show is in pretty darn good shape.

  15. Hmm, I found it quite dull and boring. I don’t know enough about creating a show as to whether lay the blame on the writing, the actors, the director, or a mixture of all (except for Penny Johnson Jerald, what a star).

    I agree that it felt very much like a “fan film”, the talking scenes, they just felt so dry and canned, I felt no connection, no emotion behind it, maybe the writing, maybe the acting, maybe the camera angle, maybe the lack of music or thoughts in our mind disrupted the flow and brought our attention solely onto the conversation in which we noticed the vast emptiness of the scene, existing like a stagnant pool, not doing anything.

    I thought the show had promise and 2nd half definitely better than the 1st, but I was wondering how many people would have turned off by then, and of course the show missed on major trick. TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise all started off with an extended double episode to allow extra time get to know the crew, the ship, and the universe to prevent the information dump. I think The Orville had such a lot to set-up and it felt rushed. Take your time, allow the crew to get to know each other, for us to get to know them, for us to begin building a bond, and thus also allow time to create some suspense.

    1. My friend who works on the show says the episodes get progressively better. He just saw the third episode, where Bortas and his male mate find that their just-hatched offspring were born female. His race considers that a birth defect, and they want to do gender reassignment surgery to correct the “problem.” Hopefully, that episode will go lighter on the penis jokes and be more of a “M*A*S*H” and less of a “Family Guy.”

      1. I kind of expect it would get better, after all, from next week on we start getting Trek alumni as directors, starting of with Robert Duncan McNeill, then Brannon Braga, James L. Conway, and Jonathan Frakes, plus now we have had the set-up we can now have the full hour (well 45 minutes not counting the ads), devoted to plot :).

        1. Oh, and upon a rewatch I have narrowed down my criticism. The acting felt forced, like the actors hadn’t found their characters yet. That scene in the cargo bay for instance, you had John LaMarr talking to Ed Mercer all super chilled and casual, then Mercer moves on to the next person, we have a zoomed out shot, and then we LaMarr together with everyone else all standing to rigid attention and that makes the acting feel hollow and lifeless, like the Cooker in Wallace & Gromit A Grand Day Out, put a coin in it does its bit, then the meter runs out and becomes lifeless.

          But yes, much better on the rewatch, all of it, even the first half, a more relaxed viewing :).

          1. I often find my secret tomato and meat sauce recipe gets better the second night I have it. (BTW, one of my secrets: drop a piece of the heel of a wedge of Reggiano Parmesan cheese into the sauce to simmer in it slowly for a few hours. Seriously, you won’t believe the difference it makes!)

      1. The OMG people like this, I don’t want to look stupid as a critic and say it was terrible, otherwise known as the bandwagon phenomena which shows the difference between before reviews and after reviews.

          1. Well, you have to take into account the way that averaging works, for example in the image you showed 18 people had given an average score of 11%, now if you add 1 person scoring it 60%, then that would only move it up to 13.5%, with an 3 people scoring 60% then that would give 18.9%, i.e. the old scores will pull down any new ones.

            That said, I have calculated the average of the new reviews since you originally posted that image showing 18 people had on average given it 11%, that means that the additional 14 people (32-18=14) have on average given it 36% ((18*0.11 + 14*0.36)/32 = 0.22). Still bad, but more than 3 times the score of the early reviewers, so definitely a huge shift.

      2. I watched the first episode last night, and it was very well done I thought. I don’t know what the critics are smoking to give it no more than a 17%, but whatever for them. They just don’t know a good Star Trek spoof of a series when they see one. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better or just as good as Galaxy Quest just yet, but they’re off to a decent start with this show I think… P

  16. My impression is that all in all it was bad. The second half was not as bad… but still bad. I found writing bad and the acting poor. I as a new person to a number of sites I find it interesting how fans are taking sides. It’s either Discovery or Orville but not both. It’s as if there are people hoping for failure just to say… see I told you so. It was the same for J.J.’s films and now I am getting the same feeling about Discovery and Orville. I am hoping for improvement over the next episodes for the Orville and I will watch each week in the hopes of seeing improvement. Maybe it’s growing pains and the best is yet to come. I hope so. I expect to see the same ranting about Discovery…. with the comparisons to Orville and all forms of Trek both good and bad. As for the critics… I don’t give a rat’s *** what they think or say. I say watch it and make your own assessment. If there is room in this universe for all forms of intelligent life… then there is room for all types of Science Fiction especially on TV or online etc…

    1. For me, it’s NOT Orville OR Discovery. I want both series to do well, and I’ll be checking out them both. I actually think more fans are like that than it seems. After all, it’s possible to like Coke AND Pepsi, red apples AND green apples, Deep Space Nine AND Babylon 5, Star Trek AND Star Wars.

      So why not root for them both? I didn’t criticize the creative decisions being made for Discovery, only the business decision to make it subscription-based.

  17. I’ve been reading the fan reviews and there was one other plot element that my wife and I both appreciated that I forgot to mention earlier – seat belts. Anyone who has ever watched Trek and who knows how many other SF probably has screamed – “where are the (expletive) seat belts.” The Orville has them. And stairs. Who could ask for more!?

  18. Hey, Eric Brunnel, try a VPN with server in US or look up
    Terrarium TV. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I missed it by a day, but easily found it and watched it.
    I enjoyed the whole episode. The intro didn’t bother me in the least. I too, hope it generates a good sized following to keep it on air.

    I read other reviews, like the one from Forbes, of all places, who said something like, “either other reviewers are crazy, or they didn’t watch the whole thing”

  19. Unfortunately the FOX Network here in Germany haven’t pick up the series so far. I hope if the series is a success in the US this change in short time. What you tell in youre Blog sounds promising.
    Greetings from good old Germany
    Mike Schäfer

  20. Having not watched the show yet, I want to chip in this much: If the show’s going to have a recurring bad guy, it needs to be a good bad guy. Heinlein noted this regarding the fiction-within-a-fictional set of counterparts John Sterling and The Galactic Overlord.

    In Trek terms, the Klingons started out pretty two-dimensional, but the writers fleshed them out more and more as time and the series(s) progressed. Darth Vader wasn’t deep in the original film, but was instantly relatable, and again as the trilogy played out, he developed depth.

    The Borg, OTOH, was not a good bad guy. there was no character to develop, not really. The Borg was more akin to a natural disaster, which, for my tastes at least, made each appearance more and more gimmicky, and required ever-newer gimmicks to defeat each time. That might not have been the case, if the Borg had showed up for an episode where they had arrived and encountered a Federation which had taken their threat as a motivation to leapfrog the Borg in some way. Say, as an example, that a fleet of cubes had showed up and had their asses kicked, only inflicting minimal losses to the UFP while a tattered remnant of what they had presumed to be an overwhelming force escaped back home, possibly as the result of a large portion of their fleet had died protecting their retreat, in order to bring the news back home. Such an event would have forced the Borg to evolve, or at least provide a new, more relateable reason WRT their drive to assimilate new species.

    I mentioned Sterling and the Galactic Overlord above, and one of Heinlein’s points was that the antagonists need to be well-matched. The Romulans, OTOH, were actually more alien than the Klingons. Secretive and insular, their motivations were harder to understand than those of the Klingons, but while they weren’t nearly aggressive, they were perhaps more ruthless in their outlook and methods. they were, in old, old parlance, “the inscrutable Oriental” – but that, too, is a relatable villain.

    Similar things could be said of rivals that are not outright enemies. As one example, the Ferengi. Or foils, as the Q was, on his best episodes.

    If the production team has and keeps those things in mind, and the series is well-executed, the Orville could grow into a great show. time will tell.

    As for me, thank you, Jonathan. I was apathetic about watching this show, but your review has gotten me interested; and more importantly, perhaps, fed me some slack to give the show. Normally, I’ll give a series about two eps to catch my interest. However, you’ve at minimum got me suspending judgement on the pilot, so barring a disastrous appearance, the Orville will get at least three eps, more or less putting the pilot down as a freebie.

    I’m a SF fan from ‘way back to grade school. I’ll keep my actual age out of it, suffice it to say that said period was between ST:TOS and the original Star Wars. I would dearly love having a SF series that interested me going on TV, and maybe Orville would fit the bill. As for Discovery, I don’t know enough to actually hate the show, I just hate the ship design and the fact that CBS decided to make Trek and other SF fans pay for the privilege of leveraging their all-access thing into functionality for them. That’s a harsh, cold thing to do to a fanbase that’s been loyal to the franchise, in spite some of the garbage they foisted onto us, over the years. Don’t try to sell me on the concept (forgot where I saw this) that it’s aimed at new, young audiences. That might fly if it were an unrelated series, such as the Orville here, but they had to slap a Trek label on it. I may be too old to be in a desired demographic, but I’m old enough to recognize a screw-job when I see one, and CBS has done it to the fans repeatedly. Unless something changes, Discovery will mark the end of the franchise to me. I might go see another JJ-verse film, or not, but I’m no longer part of CBS’ herd of cash cows. One cannot ethically demand loyalty of one’s followers when one has no loyalty to them. Even the evil Emperor had a small amount of pragmatic loyalty to Vader, at least. CBS? I need say no more.

  21. I didn’t see any comment on how much the actor’s voice playing Isaac sounds like Brent Spiner (Data). It sounds so much like him, I was thinking it was his voice and the IMDB credits were wrong!

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