Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane is best known for shows with a sarcastic and irreverent sense of humor, but with his upcoming Fox dramedy The Orville, he has a rather sincere goal: Making sci-fi storytelling happy and upbeat again.
“I miss the optimism,” MacFarlane told critics at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills on Tuesday. “I’m tired of being told everything is grim and dystopian and people are going to be murdered for food. I miss the hopeful side of science fiction. Now things are very grim.”
The series coming this fall is a Star Trek homage created by and starring MacFarlane that has strong dramatic and comedic elements while telling stand-alone episodic adventures. The show’s style is deliberately retro, with sets and props and costumes that often resemble a 1990s syndicated show (most specifically, Star Trek: The Next Generation). MacFarlane says the style separates the show from CBS Access’ upcoming Star Trek: Discovery, which is reviving the iconic franchise with a more grounded, serialized, and realistic take.
“I miss the forward-thinking, aspirational, optimistic place that Star Trek used to occupy,” he said. “I think they’ve chosen to go in a different direction in recent years. … In a lot of ways, [it’s like how] James Bond moved in a different way from classic James Bond, and then Iron Man came along — it can’t all be The Hunger Games; it can’t all be dystopian … Every science fiction show owes something to Star Trek or Star Wars. It all comes to the same DNA. The question is what you do with it. We’re trying to reinvigorate a space in science fiction that’s laid dormant for awhile.”
Added executive producer David A. Goodman, “I think there’s room for two shows on a spaceship. There are more than two cop shows. I don’t see us competing with them.”
The show’s mixture has thrown some critics for a bit of a loop (especially given that Fox’s promos present the series as a broad comedy à la Galaxy Quest — a title that MacFarlane says he hasn’t seen in years and wasn’t an influence).
“Because we’re an hour-long show … it can’t just be gag, gag, gag,” MacFarlane says. “There has to be some reality from where the comedy comes from. … There isn’t anything in the Spaceballs or Family Guy realm, and that’s by design. …We see it as a sci-fi comedic drama. We allow ourselves room for levity in a way a traditional sci-fi doesn’t. We’re trying to break new ground.”
After the panel, a reporter randomly asked MacFarlane about President Trump. Does the writer-actor-producer find him funny? “Donald Trump does not make me laugh,” he says. “Donald Trump makes me very alarmed.”
See The Orville‘s latest trailer above.