‘The Weirdest Ship in the Fleet’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About Seth MacFarlane’s ‘The Orville’
Set in a 25th-century future where humans and aliens explore space while blobs can talk, play guitar and, somehow, bang, The Orville was an unexpected detour from Seth MacFarlane and one of the best Star Trek homages we’ve seen this side of Galaxy Quest. Whether a fourth season (or animated spin-off) will ever happen is anyone’s guess, but for three seasons, Trekkie/MacFarlane fans were treated to an optimistic, somewhat old-school sci-fi comedy world that’s, as MacFarlane once called it, the opposite of The Hunger Games.
Read on about the making of The Orville and the show’s reasoning behind that quantum drive…
It Started Off As a Spec Script
The untitled spec script was quickly snatched up by Fox and 20th Television. “I’ve wanted to do something like this show ever since I was a kid, and the timing finally feels right,” MacFarlane told Deadline about the show’s first season. “20th Century Fox has been good to me for many years, and of course, (Fox heads) Dana (Walden) and Gary (Newman) have been fantastic bosses and true pals, so it was a no-brainer to come to them with the project.”
About the USS Orville’s Quantum Drive
While Star Trek used its famous warp drive to power ships, The Orville went with quantum drive, which, from a scientific point-of-view, presented some problems as the USS Orville is a massive ship moving faster than the speed of light and quantum mechanics deals with the subatomic realm. Writer, producer and science advisor Andre Bormanis explained how this particular choice stumped his scientific brain at first: “In my mind, the premise (behind the quantum drive) is that we’ve finally learned how to manipulate space-time at the quantum level, and that has led to the ability to travel faster than the speed of light. Whether that’s in a little space-time bubble so you’re not violating special relativity, like the Alcubierre drive, I have no idea. Nobody has any idea how a ship like the Orville could be built. It’s going to require development of new physical principles and new technologies, and we don’t have the language to describe that today.”
So basically, it’s the future’s problem.
Jon Favreau Did Much More Than Direct the Pilot Episode
Talking to Entertainment Weekly, the cast said that not only did Jon Favreau direct the pilot (and serve as the show’s executive producer), but he did some “catering” on set thanks to his amazing grilled cheese sandwiches and DJ’d the show’s first wrap party. Apparently, he’s pretty good behind the decks.
How the Practical Model of the USS Orville Was Created
Before filming the pilot episode, Favreau and MacFarlane were joking about building an actual model of their spaceship. “I jumped at the chance,” VFX supervisor Luke McDonald revealed. “In this day and age, visual effects supervisors shooting models is an unheard of thing to do, but something I was absolutely thrilled about.”
McDonald said that Glenn Derry — who’s worked on The Jungle Book, The Lost World and Avatar — built the practical model. “We basically shot all of the miniatures of the Orville at three frames a second,” he explained. “It was kind of like shooting in slow-mo with the motion control rig, and we did about 16 passes per shot — lights on, lights off, key lights, field light, backlight, ambient, etc. So, when we got all the passes back, we composited them just like we would any kind of full CG shot. From the model shoot, we ended up with about 25 individual shots of the Orville. It’s a very time-consuming process, but it’s very rewarding because of how many times you’re going to have to reuse these elements to achieve completely new shots, even though it’s from the same original motion control shoot.”
MacFarlane’s Got More Writing Credits on ‘The Orville’ Than on ‘Family Guy’
MacFarlane was the showrunner on Family Guy and, therefore, didn’t get much time to join the writers’ room and write the scripts. “Here we had all 13 drafts written before we even started shooting,” he says about The Orville. “I was able to go off and write about seven or eight of them. That was a real joy, and I found that the genre was something that I was really comfortable in, actually even more so than the hard comedy.”
An Orchestra for Each Episode
Each episode’s score uses a 75-piece orchestra with different composers at the helm. “We score it like a movie,” MacFarlane explained in an interview. “I was thrilled with how many people caught that in the pilot on Twitter, so we get a lot of comments about the score, which is always very gratifying. We really put as much into that as we do into the effects.”
An Attempt to Fill the Void’ Star Trek’ Left Behind
While it’s clear the show was heavily inspired by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, MacFarlane has explained how The Orville differs and, in many ways, fills a gap. “I miss the aspirational place Star Trek used to occupy. They’ve chosen to go in a different direction,” he said, explaining that the direction in question is more of a dystopian nature. “There is some space for aspirational,” he continued, “an attempt to fill that void.”
When further pushed on the subject and why he felt like making a show that resembles the sci-fi of the 1990s and not “today’s science fiction,” he said he missed the optimism of shows back then. “I’m tired of being told everything is going to be grim and dystopian. I miss the hopeful side of science fiction.”
All the Inspirations
Besides the obvious Star Trek handprint, MacFarlane said that he also drew from The Twilight Zone to create a type of allegorical sci-fi and that movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and even Deadpool showed that folks were ready for their sci-fi to come with some comedy.
On Working With Norm Macdonald
“He was a genius, and he had this wonderful combination of seeming not to have prepared at all but really having prepared exquisitely well,” MacFarlane told SYFY about working with Macdonald, who passed away following the production of Season Three. “And thus, he just makes it look so easy when, in fact, I’m sure he was working his ass off.”
MacFarlane continued, saying that Macdonald was also “just a naturally funny guy. When you have a day of recording voice actors on any show, it can get a little tedious after a while when you have a parade of them coming in one after the other. You just want to get through the day and get done and have a drink, and in a lot of cases, the actor will stick around and want to chit-chat for a while, and you go along with it. But in the back of your head, you’re just like, ‘Can we please just get on to the next one? I’m so tired.’ But with Norm, it was different. With Norm, he could stick around for 45 minutes or an hour afterward, just talking, and I was there for every second of it. He was just an absolute gift, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to be around him as much as I was.”
Filled With ‘Star Trek’ Alumni
Jonathan Frakes (Riker from TNG), Robert Duncan McNeill (Paris from Voyager) and Brannon Braga (showrunner and producer of Voyager and other Star Trek titles) have all directed episodes of the series. That’s not even mentioning the countless crew and actors who’ve worked on various Star Trek properties.
‘The Orville’ Fan Production
In 2020, Together Brothers Productions made an Orville film and series called A Planetary Step about the adventures of a Planetary Union space crew aboard the USS Eisenberg.
The Sheer Amount of Visual Effects in Season Three
The production and release of The Orville: New Horizons weren’t just delayed by the pandemic but also by the sheer amount of visual effects that went into the third season. As director Jon Cassar put it: “The original Star Wars had 300 effects. The Force Awakens had about 700 to 800. One of our episodes has 2,000. Those are all real numbers. Those are all from Brannon, and he knows because he worked on Force Awakens.”
They Considered Doing an ‘Orville’ Cartoon
“I think at one point during the pandemic, we had, out of desperation, said, ‘Look, what if we do a couple of episodes animated in the interim to hold people over?’” MacFarlane has revealed, “and there just wasn’t an appetite for it. But again, it all depends on how the show is received. If it suddenly pops and people gravitate toward it, then anything is possible.”
Critics Did Not Care for Season One
There was an apparent disconnect between critics’ and audiences’ responses when The Orville dropped its first season back in 2017. Since then, fewer critics have been scoring the show’s follow-up seasons over on Rotten Tomatoes, but those reviews have all been positive (hence the 100 percent scores) while audience scores have gone down, even though they remain “Fresh.”
Why the Show Moved to Hulu
Executive producer David Goodman explained that MacFarlane decided to move the show’s third season to Hulu because “he was feeling constrained, narratively. One of the main reasons he wanted this moved to a streamer was to liberate us. Now, the stories are the exact length they need to be.”
Fellow executive producer Brannon Braga added: “That goes the same with the shooting. On most shows, you have the script assistant saying, ‘We are too long. Get them to talk faster. It’s not going to fit into the 42 minutes.’ Again, you don’t have the constraint. When we fly into a planet, past seasons there was maybe two shots of us flying into a planet. Now, there is five or six. You get to see what that other world looks like. The worldbuilding is better because you have time to do that.”