By Steve Vertlieb: While I’ve spent much of my seventy-six years purchasing and perusing TV Guide Magazine, and subscribing to their editorial opinions as “industry gospel,” I must vehemently part company with the opinions of their editorial board and take issue with their condemnation of the third season premiere of The Orville. Having been on hiatus for several years, moving from Fox to Hulu and laboriously filming new episodes of the series for the popular streaming service, the editorial writers for the venerable television publication condemned the premiere episode of The Orville: New Horizons for its “joyless season opener.”
It is true that Seth MacFarlane, the veteran satirist who both created and stars in the science fiction series, originally envisioned the program as a semi-comedic tribute to Gene Roddenberry’s venerable Star Trek. However, the show grew more dramatic in its second season on Fox, while it became obvious that MacFarlane wished to grow outside the satirical box and expand his dimensional horizons and ambitions.
Consequently, the long awaited third season of The Orville opened its premiere episode with a heartfelt salute to comic Norm Macdonald who had played the voice of a gelatinous member of the ship’s crew, and had sadly passed away from cancer during the show’s hiatus.
MacFarlane has long aspired to escape the self imposed boundaries of his satiric origin, and tackle more serious issues, much as his science fiction series has gradually escaped the limitations of time and space. Its season premier, “Electric Sheep,” dealt with the theological morality of an artificial intelligence deciding to take its own life for the imagined betterment of the ship’s crew, and of mankind. Mark Jackson as “Isaac” had betrayed his fellow crew members in the second season finale and gone, if you will, to “The Dark Side.” His suicidal redemption was, in a sense, an act of nobility and self sacrifice on behalf of his betrayed crew mates.
Seth MacFarlane has shown his adaptability as a creator and performer, as well as his growth and maturity as an artist. This remarkably talented writer, director, comedian, actor, and voice-over artist is also a wonderfully gifted interpreter of “The Great American Songbook.” In a delightful two hour concert at The Mann Music Center in Philadelphia during the Summer of 2014, he performed a heartfelt selection of classic Nelson Riddle/Frank Sinatra charts with amazing grace and definitive vocal prowess, leaving the packed outdoor theater’s audience screaming for more. He literally came back for something like six encores, all to the delight of everyone fortunate enough to have been in attendance.
I first encountered Seth’s beautiful voice and charming performance skills a year earlier when he appeared as the featured vocalist during a splendid John Williams concert at The Hollywood Bowl where I was honored to actually meet and speak with him back-stage after the performance. In a multi-national musical climate where mediocrity is passionately applauded and embraced, Seth MacFarlane (whose adoration of Francis Albert Sinatra, and his legacy is clearly and joyfully evident), along with his deeply personal musical persona, and sublime transformation, is like a swirling, exhilarating breath of fresh air. This was fine wine waiting to be tasted, savored, and cherished well into the gentle conclusion of a warm, romantic Summer’s evening.
In much the same spirit as his maturity has grown as a popular singer, MacFarlane’s aspirations as a serious writer and actor seem to have blossomed on his popular science fiction series. Its third season opener provided a somber, sobering look at suicide and the consequences of life taken both willingly and prematurely. The Orville has grown and matured beyond its humble, satiric beginnings and evolved into a more daring, provocative journey to worlds beyond imagining. For this valiant journey and adventure, Seth MacFarlane and his crew must be applauded.