The Unicorn Scale: The Orville

2/1/2018

Greetings, fellow Earthlings! Welcome back to this flavorful quadrant of the Internet-verse, The Unicorn Scale. Why am I writing so stylishly and fully of celestially colorful language, one may ask? Because this edition of TUS focuses on the Star Trek parody show, “The Orville,” a new comedy series on Fox headed by “Family Guy’s” Seth MacFarlane. So set phasers to queer, because we’re about to go where few sci-fi comedies have gone before.

WARNING: Hey, I’m nothing if not consistent with these reviews. And that includes my choice to include plot details in my examination of bi themes I watch in this little corner. So: spoilers ahoy for the series – specifically for the ninth episode of the first season, “Cupid’s Dagger.” And if you need a reminder of what the Unicorn Scale is, you can beam on over to this (okay, I’ll let up on the lazy references now.)

“The Orville” centers on the crew of the eponymous starship, headed by Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) and his first commander – who just so happens to be his cheating ex-wife, Meredith Grey lookalike Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki.) This personnel assignment sets up lots of comedic tension to explore as Mercer and his various crew head into the funny, final frontier.

What I Liked:

When the man Grayson slept with, Darulio (a blue, scaly, yet still impossibly handsome Rob Lowe) shows up to assist with the scientific end of a peacemaking mission, Mercer goes from irate, to, well, this reaction:

So, yeah, Mercer is totally bi! This revelation may have come about because Darulio transferred sex pheromones through physical contact when they shook hands (I need that parlor trick), but still his reaction has all the trappings of a typical straight attraction. Mercer later on has a sexual encounter with Darulio and no one really bats a biphobic eye. The surprise comes from the fact that the crew didn’t know about it, not shock or dismissal at its discovery. Grayson doesn’t seem thrown when she figures out why Mercer is acting so chummy towards Darulio as far as a same-sex attraction, but due to the nature of their shared history. It seems like sexual orientation isn’t something to really react to in this not-too-distant future so much as the character of the people the crew is attracted to. Ain’t that refreshing? And ain’t that what Gene Roddenberry’s creation was all about?

Also, as a big ol’ Trekker myself, I enjoyed all the little knowing winks to the multiple Star Trek series they parody. Not only is the classic structure in place to send up, but the names have loving little nods to their predecessors. The comedy still stands on its own, even if a viewer was only vaguely familiar with the idea of the original series. So the show works for both newbies and die-hard fans of the classic show.

What I Didn’t Like:

COME ON, ORVILLE. We are centuries into the future where women have sex with giant, shapeless boogers like Lieutenant Yaphit (Google that at your own risk, readers) … but Mercer can’t use the word “bi?”  Sure, I get it – he’s giddy and maybe defensive about his orientation because of his specific situation with Darulio, but it’s frustrating. The Trek series is all about exploring beyond human boundaries and getting to better universal understanding, so it’s vexing to see the show do everything BUT use the term “bi.” It’s like running right up to the finish line and stopping to have a cup of tea. Sure, that’s a funny visual, but it doesn’t accomplish the goal set out. And that’s a shame.

Also – and this may be my own taste – the pacing is slow. Sure, we’re establishing a new world (or, rather, worlds), but this episode is nine episodes into the show. The comedic pace could have picked up at least half a beat in every scene, and that kept the story dragging when it didn’t need to lag for any reason. I suppose I could chalk that up to the first season “still figuring out” stage, but it was prominent enough for me to notice it chipping away at the overall quality.

The Rating:

Since the show has been picked up for a second season, I sure hope this isn’t the last time we see Mercer express same-sex desires. I just want to hear him use the word “bi” in this future galaxy – or whatever is their modern equivalent of the term. Still, “The Orville” is silly, (fairly) mindless fun, and it shows progress out in the stars we could still use down on this planet. And I’m sure that’s something Roddenberry would approve of … while he giggled at the warm send-up.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.