Seth MacFarlane’s Space Ship Stalls

The-OrvilleSeth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” has made Fox so much money over the years that he’s seemingly been allowed to indulge his every fantasy — from touring Sinatra-style crooner to motion picture leading man (casting Charlize Theron as his love interest).

When he told his network he wanted to play “Star Trek,” he was indulged again, and here is “The Orville” (Fox, 8 p.m.), the first broadcast entry into the new fall season — and not a very good one.

Understandably promoted as a comedy (for that is which MacFarlane is still best known), it is instead a straight, almost poker-faced recreation of the vintage space fantasy, down to the stilted acting and near-frozen pacing (when an alien pulls a gun at the end of a segment, everyone stops and they go to commercial).

MacFarlane plays the captain of a fleet ship called (for some reason) the Orville; Adrianne Palicki plays his ex-wife, who has been assigned to be first officer (this causes some friction).

The rest of the cast is full of assorted personalities and rubber-suited aliens. Scott Grimes plays a hotfooted helmsman; Penny Johnson Jerald a medical officer; Halston Sage a security chief who is also an alien with ribbed forehead, pointy ears and the kind of strength a tiny woman would not normally have. Peter Macon has to be fitted with an all rubber silent costume and Mark Jackson is inside a robot suit that is one of the least interesting designs of the bunch.

You might think Norm MacDonald would bring the laughs as a blob, but he is barely seen. Even less so is Victor Garber, who, as the goofily named Admiral Halsey never gets up from behind his desk.

8/07/17 - Los Angeles: 2017 Summer TCA - 20th Century Fox Studio DayThe stories involve the usual planet in trouble, morality 400 years in the future kind of thing, only not as well done as Gene Roddenberry would have. They spent plenty to make a lavish, two-floor set, which they showed off to reporters during the TV Critics Association press tour last month. [Here's a picture of yours truly on the set]. Still, the wide empty rooms are tinted beige, which reflects the surprisingly bland nature of the story telling.

There are the odd wisecracks and I believe the network comedy quota of making sure to mention penis and balls is wrapped up in the first few minutes. But those tuning in for laughs will be as disappointed as those tuning in for interesting space adventure.

But MacFarlane will have had his playtime in the space environment.

And to do so, he got a few people who had worked on “Star Trek” spinoff series, including Brannon Braga, who worked on three of them, and directors Robert Duncan McNeill and Jonathan Frakes.

“When I read the pilot script that Seth had written,” Braga said, “the first thing that struck me was this is completely original and yet a return to the kind of storytelling that I really missed when I did do “Star Trek” all those years ago, which is stand alone, one hour drama with a beginning, middle, and end, which is something of a rarity these days.”

What MacFarlane says he wanted to accomplish was not only stand-alone hour long episodes that needn’t be serialized but also a sense of optimism at a time when most sci-fi is so dystopian.

“I kind of miss the forward thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that ‘Star Trek’ used to occupy,” he says. “It can’t all be ‘The Hunger Games.’ It can’t all be the nightmare scenario. I think there’s some space for the aspirational blueprint of what we could do if we get our shit together, and that’s something that’s been missing for me for a while. And again, it’s something that meant a lot to me when I was a kid, that ‘Star Trek’ did, and this is sort of an attempt to kind of fill that void in the genre.”

But, he said, he’s not just that show.

“‘Star Trek’ itself sprang from a lot of different sci-fi tropes that came before it, from radio, sci-fi radio dramas in the ’30s and serials,” MacFarlane says. “The idea of a ship in the naval sense cruising through space is something that doesn’t originate with that show. They were the ones who really crystalized it in a more perfect way than anyone else.”

Still, the inspiration is so obvious in the first few episodes, you’d wonder why anybody who’d like this

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