Scintillating Screen

TV: “The Orville”

Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville” is science-fiction laced with action and computer-generated imagery. Both the action and the CGI are impressive, although they don’t do much for me: I’ve never been excited by immense chase scenes, or a screen flooded with special effects. Both scenarios are meant to overwhelm the senses, I guess, but I find such artistry underwhelming – probably because it takes away from the narrative.

The first season of “The Orville” is world-building. Half-hour episodes introduce characters, interplanetary races and cultures within the standard formula of a situation-comedy. The second season continues the sit-com element, playing on the various characters and the culture of their planets. I find these two series patchy: some episodes are highly engaging, even downright hilarious, while others lack the integral ‘so what?’ hook.

MacFarlane changes it up with the third series. Extending each episode to movie-length allows deeper exploration of content, which brings the show into its own. Connections to contemporary social issues and current affairs are covertly – and sensitvely – made. The ten episodes explore themes of transgender identity, war and peace (a perennial from all series of this show), racism, acceptance of cultures outside one’s own, the merits of artificial intelligence, and government rule akin to the Taliban’s dominance in Afghanistan. All this is achieved through building on the set-ups of the previous series, with sufficient cues and clues that a viewer new at series three can access the storyline and understand the background without having to watch the earlier series first.

Am I reading too much into ‘fluffy entertainment’ … or has MacFarlane taken a deep dive – just as Rod Serling did in the 1950s-60s with “The Twilight Zone” – encouraging viewers to consider social and political issues through the guise of ‘fluffy entertainment’ and the genre of sci-fi, where anything can be real in the imaginary worlds created?

I find series three thought-provoking: and that’s a good thing. Also, having grown up in the 1980s, it was fun to see Ted Danson (remember “Cheers”?) taking a role – now as aged and grey-haired as I have become!

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