Seth MacFarlane is back at the helm of The Orville as creator, writer, director and star, leading him into a new region of space as the series launches its long-awaited third season on Hulu after debuting on Fox in 2017.
But the change in platform isn’t the only change the sci-fi comedy is experiencing: As MacFarlane told TV Guide, after the shift in tone the show began in its second season, The Orville leans more into its direct sci-fi storytelling and cares less about making viewers laugh. While there’s still a solid share of affectionate jabs at genre conventions, MacFarlane reveals he prefers to extract the comedy from the show’s characters and use the sci-fi setting to explore deeper, more subtle concerns. .
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Tell me about the creative benefits of having extended time off — whether you planned it or not — and also the show’s move to Hulu. Are there certain things that have fundamentally changed for you in the creative process?
Seth McFarlane: Yeah, well, the pandemic has certainly allowed people to find the show in ways that they may not have had the chance to, in the beginning. When the show premiered on Fox, it was marketed as a broad comedy, which it really wasn’t. It was a sci-fi show that had comedic elements. But ultimately, the sci-fi story was really the first and most important part of it. I think it created a lot of pre-existing ideas in people’s minds of what this thing was.
And with the lack of new programming to watch during the pandemic, I think people who weren’t otherwise inclined to do so may have finally found their way to The Orville and realized, “Oh, this is something very different. It’s much more of a serious sci-fi show with comedic elements.” And that, more than anything, was what I think really benefited us. I think going into it now, we just don’t know how many eyeballs are ready for this thing. We had six and a half million views on our trailer in three days, which is a very good sign to start with. And then in terms of the move to Hulu, it was really about… From a directing perspective, that’s really where the changes were. We had already leaned into the drama at the end of Season 2. We kind of embraced that once again. It’s a dramatic sci-fi show with comedic elements that stem from the character’s personality.
Being on a streaming service just lets you play moments. And that’s the one thing that I really miss, to some extent, about networking. I mean, there are times. The West Wing was a show that – again, I’m dating myself, but it comes to mind as a show that kind of navigated the time constraints and kind of was able to creating real moments that weren’t just people talking and then moving on to the next scene and there’s no time to blow away there. There are episodes of The Orville that I’m watching now that were on Fox, and to this day I’m thinking, ‘God, I wish we didn’t have to cut this fucking thing down to 43 minutes because that was a time there that would have really should have been allowed to breathe. And that would have been even more powerful emotionally.”
We don’t have to worry about that now. And that’s something that I think we’ve really tried to address throughout the season. When I say “moments” the example I always use is the scene from Star Wars where Luke is standing on the dune looking at the two suns and the swell from the John Williams score is just… It’s a real moment. And it’s designed to evoke a feeling from the audience and it’s very serious. And that’s something we’re really trying to build on wherever we can this season.
You express certain allegorical points of view in your narration, because that’s what science fiction – and especially the science fiction that I know you like – is ideal for. And this is a time when I think people need to say something and hear something a little deeper than just heartbreaking fortune telling. So tell me how this season has opened things up more for you by telling these kind of allegorical sci-fi tales.
McFarlane: Well, that’s interesting because our scripts were written in 2019, so we were well into it before things got really hairy. I mean, things were hairy enough already, but we were… January 6 hadn’t happened yet. All in the family [is] A good example. It was a show that built on the events of its time, but not in such a granular way that it was irrelevant a month later. There was a generalized approach. And that’s what The Orville try to do.
There isn’t really a specific event or time that we’re referring to. When we get allegorical, it’s more of a broad sense of what we’re talking about. And in each of those cases, there are obviously multiple layers, in terms of what’s being said. And we try to leave as much as possible for the public to dig up for themselves without… We’re really trying hard not to preach to anybody, because you’re preaching to the converted and the unconverted. converts don’t want to hear it. So it doesn’t really benefit anyone. So it’s really about telling the story as honestly as possible, with the feeling that your first goal is to be an artist. And if you can keep that priority intact, then you can earn the right to be maybe a little opinionated below the top.
I think the show has always been great at staying focused on the character, even when it has a big sort of plot conceit or sci-fi hook. Give me an idea of the upcoming season, where you can kind of advance the characters and have a little fun with them.
McFarlane: Yeah. look, there are nine actors, and in general, I’m a big fan, as a producer, I’m a big fan of the overall show. From a writing point of view, it’s a joy. I mean, I have nine characters, nine great actors who are fun to write for. We have reached the point where there is no longer a line of dialogue that can be interchanged. Every line of dialogue is so specific to that character. And that’s where you really want to go from a write [standpoint]. If you’ve gotten to this point, then you know you’ve done your development work correctly. And here we are. I can’t just change a piece of dialogue. It has to come from each character’s mouth in a specific way, so it’s a pure joy to be at this point.
And this season, every character has more than one moment, where they really take over the spotlight and that week is their story. There’s a lot of science fiction out there. There are a lot of great sci-fi movies out there. The one thing I’ve read over and over again in reviews of the show is that it’s a show that really has a lock on the people, on its characters. He loves his characters. He knows who his characters are. That’s the strength of the show. And no matter how glitzy and loaded visual effects we get this year, it still is. We have not deviated from this central philosophy.
And for you as a creator and writer and especially as a director, having directed so many episodes this season, talk to me – as a lover of the genre, but someone who’s also done a lot of TV – of that creative itch scratching that particular show. I know you put a lot of yourself into it, so tell me what it means to you.
McFarlane: I mean, as a writer, it’s the most fun I’ve had in my career. Writing this show was the most enjoyable writing experience I can remember. It’s a genre that’s so diverse in its possibilities. You can write an adventure show, an action show, a love story, a horror movie, a comedy, a social allegory. You can really play in any world and your characters in this genre, aboard your little spaceship, will adapt to that. And it’s a gift. I couldn’t write a legal show or a medical show, A) because I’m probably not smart enough, but B) I’d just start to feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over.
And I love that you can tell a story about anything. Just like everyday life, one day can be tragic for you, another day can be full of laughter, another day can be terrifying. You can treat this little world of bottles as a real place in that regard, yes.
I mean, I had fun at first, but as I went along I realized how much fun I was really having and how creatively, how it was really fulfilling. And I was like, ‘God, maybe I never should have been in comedy in the first place. I should have been in science fiction from day one.’
The Orville: new horizons The premiere is available now on Hulu, with new episodes dropping Wednesdays on the streaming service.
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