Thursdays have always been my favorite day of the week — close enough to Friday to be excited about the coming weekend but far enough from the start of freedom to avoid the anxiety of deciding what to do on Saturday night. But as of last week, I have a new reason to look forward to Thursdays: Seth McFarlane’s The Orville has returned to Hulu under an updated name: “New Horizons.”
In case you haven’t seen this particular take on sci-fi silliness before, The Orville is a comedy science fiction show set in a futuristic space-faring world, albeit with a few scientific liberties taken. (That would be the “fiction” part.)
The show finds a comfortable home in the space between the aura of bro-humor we’re used to seeing from most of McFarlane’s other work and more dramatic notes along the lines of our favorite stretches of Star Trek. That said, it’s usually much less serious than many of the more impactful Trek episodes we know and love, but I think that lends itself well to the world we’re living in these days.
Even so, our return to orbit with the Orville drops us back into the action at a point where there is certainly some drama afoot! From prejudice and interpersonal dust-ups within the crew to the very real effects of PTSD on crew members both young and old, our return to this universe starts off with an explosive re-entry. No spoilers, I promise, but this season definitely hits the ground running, tackling some of the series’ heaviest issues so far.
Fortunately, it’s well-positioned to do so. Cultural pinch points often prove tricky to discuss with any nuance in modern media, but fiction – and science fiction in particular – has long provided a unique opportunity to do so despite the difficulty. McFarlane and the rest of the writers’ room on The Orville prove this point easily, walking the line between parody and poignancy with skill and grace.
It’s not all serious business, though. The Orville, at its heart, embraces the sillier nature of science fiction – the fanciful flight patterns that make no practical sense, the aliens who really shouldn’t fit in a space suit but do – and in the process, reminds us all of what sci-fi loves to do most: inspire us.
That inspiration doesn’t always have to come from the serious side of a story, and I’ve often found that the most effective allegories are the ones that appeal to our inner child, rather than our inner cynic. Our imaginations leap into overdrive when the boundaries of what’s possible are lifted out of our way, and this series is no slouch at clearing those obstacles.
This brings me to my overarching opinion on the return of The Orville: I’m very, very glad to see its return to my TV screen. In the midst of over two years of struggle, loss, isolation, and anxiety, it’s refreshing to sink into a little piece of escapist fiction that’s punctuated by bits and pieces of impactful social observation rather than structured entirely around them.
I’m as determined to bear witness to the struggles of the world we live in as the next person, but it can be heavy, and exhausting. The Orville examines some of the more challenging issues we experience as human beings through a lens of wit and sharp humor, softening the landing and giving us a chance to consider differing viewpoints in a safe and informal space.
That’s what I think is truly important about most science fiction — presenting information to us in a way that allows us to explore new ideas without pressure or judgment. The Orville does an excellent job packaging these ideas such that we have the space to wander around in our own biases and absorb information that helps us grow as people — as a culture.
It sounds a little silly to ascribe all that to a comedy television show, but that feels like it might be the best part of all this. The real gems of storytelling often come from unexpected places, taking us by surprise and bringing us on a journey with them. I’m delighted to join the crew of The Orville once more and venture out on that journey together.
You can catch new episodes of The Orville: New Horizons on Hulu, Thursday evenings.