When The Orville premiered back in 2017, its arrival coincided almost exactly with Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Trek TV show in over a decade. Comparisons between the two series were inevitable, with even Gizmodo calling The Orville a “Star Trek spoof” in our earliest coverage of the series.
But as anyone who’s watched the Seth MacFarlane-created (and -starring) show knows, that’s not at all what The Orville was aiming for at the beginning, and over two seasons — with a third, titled The Orville: New Horizons, arriving next week on Hulu — it has set itself apart from Trek in many ways, although Gene Roddenberry’s franchise remains a clear influence. There’s also the small fact that currently, there’s now more Star Trek on TV than ever before.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re still occupying our own space this year,” MacFarlane told Gizmodo over video chat at a recent Orville press event. “Certainly, the more that’s out there, you do start to become a little concerned that, you know, is it oversaturation? Is there a pocket where our show and only our show exists? And I think that is still very much the case.”
Not wanting to spoil what’s in store, MacFarlane didn’t get too into detail about what specifically sets The Orville apart from Star Trek this season. In more general terms, “It’s this genre that emerged in the 1930s of a ship in space, captained and crewed very much the same way that a sailing ship was,” he said. “It’s something that dates back a lot of decades. Star Trek was really the first to take it and turn it into something that really mattered and was a serious form of storytelling. You know, for us… sci-fi right now is very dark. It’s very dystopian. It’s very grim in a lot of ways. It’s very cautionary. And the optimistic, uplifting part of that genre is something we haven’t really seen in a while. So there was a pretty obvious open pocket for us to kind of slip into when we started. How we fit in now is — it’s really up to the audience, I think — what we’re bringing to the table in tone, in structure, in scope is in a class of its own. But that remains [to be seen], because the verdict [on season three] has not come in yet.”
As executive producer David Goodman pointed out, the similarities between the series that fans have noticed are not exactly coincidental. “We’ve got a lot of pretty well-known Star Trek veterans working on the show,” he said. “But I think the difference for us is that our characters are flawed, real people. Not to say that they’re not trying to do that on the other shows, but that’s where Orville started. We want our shows to come out of the funny, awkward, serious interactions of characters that feel like they could exist in our world — it’s just that they’re walking on the bridge of a spaceship. That’s where our drama comes from and is also where our comedy comes from, from the creation of those characters that feel a little more flawed, a little more grounded. They’re not space heroes.”
Added fellow exec producer Jon Cassar, “I think also we don’t have the anchor of what Star Trek was that those other shows that have… from what I’ve read, and I have a lot of friends that work on the shows, it’s been difficult on them trying to live up to that standard, trying to keep that standard alive, trying to keep the canon alive. All of that. From our point of view, we’re who we are. We’re just The Orville. We get to sort of make up the rules ourselves and follow our own rules. So I think that’s a bit of an advantage for us.”
There’s also the fact that Star Trek has been on the air on and off since the 1960s. “When the new incarnations of Star Trek came along, there had [already] been a thousand episodes,” co-executive producer Brannon Braga said. “So [the current creators] have a lot to pay attention to, because the fans definitely know every detail of the show. So there is, I agree with Jon, a certain blank slate that’s been fun.”
The Orville: New Horizons arrives June 2 on Hulu; we’ll have more from the cast and crew soon.
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