The Orville: New Horizons


Not rated.
Stars Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Jessica Szohr, Anne Winters.

For its third season, Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi series ‘The Orville’ moved to Hulu, where it gained a bigger budget and a lot more creative freedom.

However, the series manages to retain its charm despite some flashier visual effects and an expanded scope. That’s because the core of the show continues to be its likable main characters and their camaraderie.

The show takes place in the early 25th century and follows the adventures of the U.S.S. Orville, an exploratory vessel of the Planetary Union.

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With the series’ second season having concluded on Fox in April 2019, fans had to wait more than three years before the new episodes finally arrived in early June under the “New Horizons” banner. Much of the delay was due to the pandemic, but the creative team put the time to good use updating the show’s sets and costumes for a 4K presentation. Even the show’s aspect ratio was slightly adjusted to give it more of a cinematic widescreen feel.

Rest assured, this isn’t a reboot by any means. Ongoing storylines pick up where they left off, with the first episode dealing with the continuing threat of the Kaylon, the race of robots who have vowed to wipe out all biological species in the galaxy, and how the crew continues to resent Isaac (Mark Jackson), the Kaylon crewmember who initially betrayed the Union before turning on his people and being given a chance to continue to serve on the ship for a shot at redemption.

To that end, the show introduces a new character, Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters), the ship’s new navigator who hates Isaac because her previous ship was destroyed by the Kaylon.

The series continues to operate out of the “Star Trek” playbook, which is to say mixing space opera with a dose of social commentary that sparks discussion without being preachy (which is more than can be said about “Star Trek” nowadays).

The show’s visual style continues to mesh modern CG effects with an aesthetic that is more-or-less evocative of ’50s sci-fi serials. Perhaps the biggest shift in the switch to Hulu is that the series, often accused of being a “Trek” parody, has toned down its overt humor to shed some of that reputation. The biggest drawback to this approach was that the humor made it easier to overlook some questionable plot points (or outright plot holes) that would seem more egregious if the presentation was meant as serious drama. Still, the emotional authenticity of the character dynamics and tightly constructed season-long story arcs end up making this a minor quibble.

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The transition to streaming also brings with it much longer episodes than a conventional broadcast format. Instead of typical 42-minute episodes, most of “New Horizons” episodes are over an hour each, which a couple that are long enough to be the equivalent of two-parters had they been broadcast. So while the season is nominally 10 episodes long, from the consideration of runtime it’s more like 14 or 15, around what the first two seasons were.

One of the planned episodes ended up not being filmed due to the pandemic, so MacFarlane adapted it into a digital novella, Sympathy for the Devil, that is available through Audible and other online retailers.

Another highlight is the show’s music, where the score is big and cinematic, paying homage to the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and John Williams. But the show also finds plenty of excuses to get its cast to sing, particularly Scott Grimes. There’s also a surprise performance by a special guest star whose appearance proves just how outside the box this show can get.

Following the completion of “New Horizons” on Hulu, all three seasons became available to stream on Disney+ as well. Here’s hoping “The Orville” gets renewed for season four.