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MacFarlane's sci-fi comedy/drama Orville debuts

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Happy Grandparents Day, fellow Arkansans. Let's celebrate with something fun that'll make us all feel like we're 15 again.

Fox's comedy/drama The Orville begins a long, drawn-out debut today with Part 1 of its highly hyped "two-night premiere event" at 7 p.m. Part 2 airs at the same time Sept. 17.

The series finally settles into its regular time slot at 8 p.m. Sept. 21. That's a Thursday, if you don't have a calendar handy. It will follow the season premiere of Gotham and precede the season finale of Zoo. Fox has ordered 13 episodes.

Why is Fox confusing us with this convoluted roll out for The Orville? Simple. Parts 1 and 2 will air immediately following NFL on Fox doubleheaders and The OT post-game show. The network hopes we'll come for the football and stay for the fun and games.

Here's what you need to know about The Orville.

The live-action, one-hour space adventure is set 400 years in the future and follows the exploits of The USS Orville (ECV-197), a midlevel exploratory spaceship. The series comes from the prolific Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad!, Ted), who also stars in the thing, wrote the pilot and serves as executive producer.

As with previous space offerings such as Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Galaxy Quest, The Orville has a diverse crew of humans and aliens who face "the wonders and dangers" out there, while also dealing with the mundane, usually humorous problems of everyday life.

MacFarlane plays The Orville's Capt. Ed Mercer, and Adrianne Palicki (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Friday Night Lights) portrays Kelly Grayson, Mercer's ex-wife who has been assigned as his first officer.

Others characters in the ensemble are:

Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald, 24), one of the best physicians in the Planetary Union.

Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes, Justified), Mercer's best friend. He has problems with authority, but is still the best helmsman in the fleet.

Bortus (Peter Macon, Shameless), an alien from a single-sex (male) species.

Alara Kitan (Halston Sage, Neighbors), The Orville's inexperienced security officer, comes from a planet where high gravity has given her super strength.

John LaMarr (J Lee, Family Guy) is the ship's navigator with a droll sense of humor.

Isaac (Mark Jackson, That Royal Today) is an artificial life form from a machine society that believes biological life forms are inferior.

Yaphit (voice of Norm MacDonald, Saturday Night Live) is a creature that looks like a giant blob of lemon Jell-O.

Klyden (Chad L. Coleman, The Wire), Bortus' mate.

Victor Garber has a recurring role as Admiral Halsey. Guest stars will include Charlize Theron, Holland Taylor and Jeffrey Tambor.

The series begins with Mercer still reeling from his bitter divorce. So, he's thrilled to finally get his own command from Admiral Halsey, even though Halsey says, "Trust me, you were nobody's first choice for this, but we've got 3,000 ships to staff."

Mercer is determined to prove his worth and begin a new chapter in his career. Naturally, when his ex gets assigned to The Orville, things get complicated. And funnier.

Is The Orville simply a MacFarlane spoof of Star Trek? Not really.

Speaking to the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, MacFarlane is quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying, "The show is seeking to break a bit of new ground, tonally. It's not something that has been done on TV in recent years, at least in the hourlong format. We really do see it as a sci-fi comedic drama. We allow ourselves room for levity in the ways that a traditional hourlong show doesn't."

That sounds as if MacFarlane is a bit more serious than what's indicated in the laugh-filled ads that Fox has been running.

MacFarlane explained, "If you kind of break down where the jokes come and how they kind of lay out, you'll notice that there really isn't anything that exists in the Spaceballs or Family Guy realm. It can't just be gag, gag, gag, gag, gag. There has to be some reality to where the comedy comes from."

Still, look for a lot of comedy in whatever MacFarlane touches.

"I miss the hopeful side of science fiction that flourished in the '90s," MacFarlane said about current shows set in the future. "It can't all be The Hunger Games. There has to be an aspirational blueprint where we get our [stuff] together."

I already have The Orville programmed on the DVR just in case I get confused about the special two-part Sunday premiere and shift to Thursday. I suggest you do the same.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

mstorey@arkansasonline.com

Style on 09/10/2017

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