A classic episode of “Seinfeld” finds George Costanza pitching his sitcom to NBC executive Russell Dalrymple.
“So why am I watching it,” questions Dalrymple regading the perplexing “show about nothing.”
“Because it’s on TV!” answers Costanza.
That same logic seems to be at the center of FOX’s new sci-fi comedy “The Orville.” It may not be a show about nothing, but the only reason to watch it is because it’s on TV.
There was a time in which that would have been a compelling enough reason.
Unfortunately for “The Orville,” we are in a vastly different era. We are in the age of “peak TV,” in which a legitimately compelling series seemingly debuts on a conventional TV or streaming network every week. In this overcrowded environment — one in which even passionate TV fans struggle to keep up with all the shows they want to watch — it takes more than “being on TV” and “not being terrible” to win a loyal audience.
It takes far more than “The Orville” offers.
Due to the Seth MacFarlane name, the broadly accessible concept and the strong NFL football lead-in, many will likely sample the new series when it premieres Sunday night.
It is hard, however, to imagine many committing to a show so uninspired, unambitious and disposable.
Sunday night’s premiere (part one of a two-night launch) elicits a few laughs, but it is certainly not funny enough to rank as a great comedy. And insofar as it carries a legitimate degree of wide-eyed love for science fiction, “The Orville” is not nearly biting enough to constitute any sort of “satire.”
Its approach to science fiction is not, however, particularly exciting or innovative. “The Orville” may not be embarrassing or disrespectful, but it is unlikely to lure many legitimate sci-fi aficionados.
“The Orville” is simply a mildly amusing series with sci-fi elements. It is always somewhat charming and never utterly unwatchable, but it never feels like the show is making a legitimate mark on the world of television. It never feels like it is accomplishing anything interesting — or even interested in accomplishing anything interesting.
Already hindered by its uninspired format, “The Orville” makes matters worse with thoroughly unremarkable execution.
There is little effort to build any of the characters in the premiere; even the two leads (Seth MacFarlane’s Ed and Adrianne Palicki’s Kelly) go without any meaningful development. The characters simply come across as individuals who get into adventures and occasionally make jokes aboard the USS Orville. Some characters may have identities – Scott Grimes’ Gordon makes wisecracks, Halston Sage’s Alara is of the absurdly strong Xelayan race – but they do not necessarily have meaningful personalities. They do not provide viewers with any real opportunity to connect with the show.
None of the individual actors, moreover, has the ability to rise above the thin writing. The cast members are competent actors and generally likable, but they perform without much command or charisma. They will not make you change the channel in digust, but they also will not make you enthusiastically setup a DVR season pass.
In defense of the show, some may argue that the premiere skimps on characterization in order to make action the priority. It is, after all, the show’s effort to excite millions of mildly curious — but not yet committed — viewers.
That defense may seem logical in theory, but it does not hold up in practice. “The Orville” indeed prioritizes action, but the “action” it spotlights is not particularly engaging or exciting. It, too, is flat and uninspired. The “challenge of the week” involves a device that could conceivably have catastrophic ramifications for the universe, yet there never really seem to be any stakes. There is no legitimate suspense or fear that the characters will fail to save the day.
The action, like the characters, “humor” and overall format, reiterates the point that “The Orville” is a watchable, yet utterly disposable hour of television.
Watching “The Orville” is not the worst way to spend an hour, but it is definitely not the best.
And the most frustrating part about the show is that it seems accepting of that reality. It does not even try to make the case for itself as a memorable, ambitious, can’t-miss addition to the saturated sea of television programming.
It is content not being hated — it doesn’t need to be loved.
And it will not be.
“The Orville” premieres after football (~8PM ET) on Sunday, September 10.