The Orville has a categorization problem, a genre problem, and a marketing problem, but mostly it has a tone problem. Categorized as a “space adventure series,” an “American comedy series,” and a “science-fiction comedy-drama series” by network promotions and fans (Fox, Google, Wikipedia respectively). No one seems able to locate the show in genre or format.
The confusion is complicated further by poor marketing and branding. In promotions, the series’ marketing team banked on the name recognition of Seth MacFarlane (the series co-creator and lead actor), but failed to understand that MacFarlane’s brand associations (Family Guy) were a mismatch for the new property. The Orville was marketed as “Like Star Trek, but funny” at Comic Con, but even here the cast warns audiences of the tonal whiplash of the series. Wooing fans of MacFarlane’s brand of gross-out comedy, without recognizing the necessary differences between a 30-minute sitcom, and an hour-long… something.
The tonal disharmony of the series, with one episode pulling from MacFarlane’s brand of humor with jokes about prostates, “Old Wounds” and the next episodes focusing on gender identity in society “Command Performance” and “About a Girl” doesn’t provide a stable ground for audiences or industry. Despite stumbling at the outset, it seems the parody or “clone” is truer to its source material’s ideology and themes than the recent addition to the Star Trek franchise, Discovery.
Which leads us to the question, is it possible, even preferable, for a series to grow from and beyond parody to something more authentic and long-term?