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The Orville: Seth MacFarlane Is Sick of Depressing Sci-Fi

He wants to go back to an aspirational future with his new series

Tim Surette

Fox's The Orville is a hard show to explain beyond its basic premise: Seth MacFarlane stars as a spaceship captain 400 years in the future and he has a crew of humans, aliens and robots, and they go on wacky adventures.

But it's not Family Guy Goes to Alpha Centauri. The Orville is an hourlong series, a new format for the man behind a chunk of Fox's Sunday night animated block, and it's going to feel different from his other work. It will especially surprise fans of MacFarlane's 'toons, as chunks of the episode are devoted to drama rather than long-running jokes with no end or cutaway gags to something sophomoric.

"Because we're an hourlong show, the story has to come first," MacFarlane said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. It can't just be gags and jokes, he says, and he sees it as a sci-fi comedic drama rather than a spoof in space, even if there are jokes about using the spaceship's food synthesizer to make instant pot brownies. "This show is looking to break a little ground tonally," MacFarlane says. "It's not something that's really been done recently on TV."

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In fact, MacFarlane disputes the most obvious comparison that's been made by those who have seen the trailer. It was not influenced by the comedy masterpiece GalaxyQuest, which famously spoofed Star Trek. But Star Trek itself? That's a major influence, and not just for the costumes and ship.

"There are many different places that I draw from when I think of this, there's Twilight Zone and Star Trek, a lot of these different franchises that I hold in high regard," MacFarlane said. "And I kind of miss the forward-thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that Star Trek chose to occupy."

With Star Trek hitting cinemas with a different tone than the television series, MacFarlane saw an opening to jump in and fill that space, much like Iron Man filled the space vacated when the James Bond franchise changed directions (MacFarlane's comparison, not mine).

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"It's a space that's kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age, when we're getting a lot of dystopian science-fiction, a lot of which is great and entertaining," he says. "But it can't all be Hunger Games, it can't all be the nightmare scenario. I think there's some space for the aspirational blueprint of what we could do if we got our sh*t together, and that's been something that's been missing for a while. And it's something that meant a lot to me as a kid."

Just don't think The Orville will be all hopeful messages about mankind and none of that trademark MacFarlane humor. I don't think that Star Trek ever centered a joke around a dog licking his balls.

The Orville premieres Sunday, Sept. 10 immediately following football on Fox.

Seth MacFarlane, The Orville

Seth MacFarlane, The Orville

Michael Becker/FOX