Cast: Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy," "Ted"), Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights"), Penny Johnson Jerald ("24," "The Larry Sanders Show"), Scott Grimes ("Justified"), Peter Macon ("Shameless," "Bosch"), Halston Sage ("Crisis"), J Lee ("The Cleveland Show"), Chad Coleman ("The Walking Dead"), Mark Jackson ("The Royal Today")
Airs: The season premiere airs on Fox at 8 p.m. Sunday.
The premise: Set 400 years in the future, this dramatic comedy follows the adventures of the U.S.S. Orville, an exploratory spaceship. The ship is captained by Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), who leads an intergalactic crew that includes his ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who was assigned to be his first officer without his consent.
Highs: "The Orville" isn't what you'd expect from the man best known for creating a crude yet hilarious cartoon family that lives in Quahog, R.I. If you're looking for this series to be "Family Guy in Space," you'll be disappointed. No buffoonish patriarchs, clueless teens, martini-sipping dogs or genius infants are on the U.S.S. Orville, not even close.
This isn't "animation domination" Seth MacFarlane. "The Orville" is science and sci-fi nerd MacFarlane. He was an executive producer of the Peabody Award-winning 2014 documentary series, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Viewers can expect a thoughtful tone from "The Orville." It's MacFarlane's vision of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" with touches of humor.
While "The Orville" is more weighty than a typical MacFarlane program, it doesn't lack positivity. During a panel at the Television Critics Association summer tour in August, MacFarlane repeatedly mentioned that he missed "the hopeful side of science fiction." For the most part, in the three episodes I watched, this series has that perspective. The crew of The Orville handles some somber issues, but MacFarlane's trademark humor doesn't turn the series into a "Star Trek" parody. It just lightens the mood when needed.
Lows: While "The Orville" has moments of clarity, what kind of show it's trying to be isn't immediately obvious. Misleading trailers make it appear to be a comedy. It's not. This hour-long show must have more than jokes and non sequiturs. So the serious subject might perplex many viewers. Instead of having the "you got your chocolate (comedy) in my peanut butter (drama)" vibe that creator MacFarlane was seeking, "The Orville" often has too much humor or not enough.
With a comedy-to-drama ratio in "The Orville" a bit off balance, genre confusion ensues. A storyline with two alien characters provides a good example. In the second episode, a female child is born to a species that's entirely male (long story). One of them even sits on a giant egg that looks like a rock. But in the third episode, the couple has a heated debate about changing the infant's gender. That's some complicated subject matter that's difficult to juggle.
Grade (C+): While the series is initially disjointed, by episode three I had gained some insight into what MacFarlane was striving for with "The Orville." His message is basically, "Life is full of challenges, but it doesn't mean everything needs to be so dour." Makes sense to me. I hope that after a rough start, MacFarlane will right the ship to make his message more clear.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.