Sep 14, 2017

Making The Orville funnier ... one comedy writer's conceit.

The ship is nice looking ... but not funny
I watched the premiere of The Orville last night, Fox's attempt at a comedic Star Trek take off - not dissimilar to what Galaxy Quest did, but in TV form.

It was pretty good. I'll definitely be tuning in again. However, I can't help but feel they missed a ton of opportunity to make what was a good show into a great one.

I think the biggest miss there was in the rather light sprinkling of comedy, which was amusing at times but never even close to what I'd consider hilarious.

Now, Seth MacFarlane's resume is a shitload longer than mine, so it's probably arrogant of me to say this, but I can't help but think their biggest mistake is in trying to give The Orville a heart. The problem is, for me at least, feel-good comedies more often than not lose sight of the comedy part in favor of making us root for the heroes. That's a shame, because this isn't serious sci-fi. There's no reason for us to root for anyone.

Consider Spaceballs, Mel Brooks' spoof of the Star Wars franchise. The thing is, is works, and often works well. Why? Because it's not afraid to embrace its absurdity. It doesn't care if we love Lone Star or are hissing at Dark Helmet, because they're both equally inept. The thing that matters is they're making us laugh, which they do often.

The Orville instead tries to give us a serious universe with some quirky characters. There's definitely potential there but, if the premiere was any indication, they were far more focused on making us like the cast than making us laugh ... and in what is essentially a spoof of a well-established genre, I'm not sure that's good enough.

Being I allegedly know a thing or two about comedy myself, I thought I'd take a stab at fixing this.

That said, here are some missteps and/or changes I would make to the characters of The Orville which I think would up the funny considerably, while still leaving it safe for prime time TV.


Captain Mercer: I think the show's number one mistake was in making him a competent officer going through a bad stretch. That right there makes it far too easy for him to reach down inside and ultimately do the right thing / find the right path. Can't say that works for me. Instead, make this guy a total fuck-up and an irredeemable one at that. Either Peter Griffin in space or a live action Zap Brannigan. Have him win the day by dumb luck, barely learning a damn thing as his crewmen get vaporized around him yet he collects the accolades.

Commander Grayson: The cheating ex-wife. Sadly, the way they're playing it here makes me think they have two choices plot-wise: either she and her husband eventually get back together after a series of Friends-like blunders or they merely stay friends and learn to work with each other. Unfortunately, the first is cliche and the second simply isn't funny. Go 100% Married With Children here, I say. Make these two loathe each other, yet be forced to work together. Heck, maybe the reason she's even on the ship is she has a huge life insurance policy out on him and is doing her damnedest to get him killed in a way that lets her collect. 

LT. Malloy: The mistake here is that both he and the Captain are both super competent, but a bit screwed up. Again, that allows them to fix things because ultimately they're both capable officers. I'd say, of the two, let him stay competent, but make it so that he's loyal to a fault to his friend. His entire career has been killed because he's constantly covering for Mercer and suffering the consequences as a result.

Bortus: Interestingly enough, I wouldn't change him too much. He played straight man in episode 1. Keep him that way. Make him the equivalent of Alan Rickman's character from Galaxy Quest. In fact, make him far more competent than either the Capt or 1st officer, yet they always get the credit. Deep down he hates them both, since he's more fit for command, but he believes in duty too much to do anything about it ... save hope they both die horribly in a way in which he can't save them.

Currently in no danger of being dethroned
Lt Lamarr: If they made the changes I suggested to Malloy, then I'd keep him as is. One jackass at the navigation station is cool, but not two. His snark was amusing, just don't turn him into a stereotype in space. That'll quickly tire.

Isaac: Talk about the biggest wasted potential of the premiere. Me, I'd go full-on Marvin the paranoid android's arrogant brother with him. Everything he says and does would be a dig at how much the others suck. Heck, maybe I'd make him the big bad enemy of the season, constantly reporting back to his superiors so they can invade the Union ... but ultimately sending them shitty info since the people he's reporting on are all inept. 

Dr. Finn: I would make her as she appears in the premiere, but to the Nth degree. Have her be writing a research paper on why the Union needs better screening and this crew are the main subjects. Make her always studying them, even when they're injured, but treating them more like lab rats than people.

Alana Kitan: The first thing I'd do is have her be a LOT more ignorant in the ways of how other species work. Her strength should cause more problems than it solves. She's always hurting people, smashing equipment, or crushing her laser gun at the wrong moment. It's a bit cliche, but maybe have her eventually discover the joys of sex and go all overboard, ensuring that half the crew are in sickbay at all times because of her voracious appetite.

The Krill: They had zero personality in the premiere - generic bad guys, who stopped long enough to have one civil conversation, which was supposed to be funny, but wasn't.  Rewrite them so that they're hyper violent. Make them Klingons on steroids.  Everything about their culture is violent. Their solution to every problem is to shoot, stab, or punch it. The captain's answer about marriage would have been far more hilarious had he explained, how he blew up his first wife, shoved his second out an airlock, and is currently fending off multiple assassination attempts from his kids.

Those are just my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts. Hopefully subsequent episodes can kick the tires a bit and find a better pace for the humor.  As I said, I'll be continuing to watch it, but as of right now it's with an eye more toward hoping they don't miss as many opportunities than actually laughing out loud.