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The Orville’s “From Unknown Graves” Asks Us to Consider the Flawed Logic of Prejudice

Villains don’t form in a vacuum. The bad guys have their reasons and, of course, they consider themselves the heroes of their own stories. The Klingons and Romulans were cool adversaries in original Trek; they became even more compelling when Next Gen fleshed out their worlds and gave personalities to their characters. You came to understand why they did what they did, even if you saw the kinks in their thinking; even if their acts were unconscionable. And, as a corollary, you began to realize that not every creature who pounded fist to chest and spoke in an aggressive, staccato tongue adhered to the same reasoning.

Very often, not completely without justification, Seth MacFarlane has been criticized for storytelling that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Family Guy was too reliant on sophomoric humor, non-sequitur tangents, and, in its early run, an abundance of Hitler jokes. Ted was a bro comedy where one bro was a stuffed bear. A Million Ways to Die in the West tried to bring Pythonesque historical deconstruction to the American frontier, but forgot to apply the academic rigor.

And The Orville has frequently been dismissed as the most expensive fan production ever mounted, Next Gen cosplay benefitting from the largesse of two generous networks. It’s easy to see why: It was well known that MacFarlane had been approaching Paramount with a plan to mount his own, very straight Trek series. When that fell through, he snagged some producers with Trek history, got Fox to pony up a budget, and launched his own show, one that was Next Gen in pretty much every aspect but name.

But anyone watching closely soon came to discover that The Orville was no hack job. Whatever you feel about MacFarlane, it’s become clear that his love for Trek—and especially Next Gen—was unironic. And where the official franchise was running on fumes by the time of Enterprise, MacFarlane brought a fresh vision to the concept, and an invigorating energy to the production. (And, frankly, a better approach to comic beats than anyone at Next Gen ever exhibited.)

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