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Fox's 'The Orville' kicks off season but doesn't have much game

When you've made as much money for Fox as Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy," "The Cleveland Show," "American Dad!"), you can pretty much get anything you want from the network.

That includes making the mediocre new space adventure series, "The Orville." It becomes the first new network show of the season when it has a special series premiere at around 8 p.m. Sunday on WUTV (Channel 29) after Fox's NFL game.

The second episode also airs on a Sunday, Sept. 17, before the series moves to its regular time slot at 9 p.m. Thursday on Sept. 21.

This week, MacFarlane was involved in a tweet storm to his 13.3 million followers.

"It's the show I've wanted to make since I moved to Hollywood," tweeted MacFarlane. "Thoughtful sci-fi with a comedy streak. A challenging hybrid, but here goes."

In another tweet, MacFarlane wrote: "As shocking as it sounds from the 'Family Guy' guy, yes, 'The Orville' is a show that the entire family can watch."

After watching the opening hour, I thought that he must have been kidding in that tweet.

What is considered family viewing has rapidly changed, but I still don't know a show that starts with infidelity, has occasional verbal and visible jokes about genitals and bodily functions, and has some mildly offensive language is family viewing even in 2017.

A visual joke involving a dog was questionable before more attention is focused on it in the show's dialogue. It was as if MacFarlane didn't trust his audience to get the sophomoric joke.

MacFarlane's humor always workers better in animated shows than it does with real actors as evidenced by his movie "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

Many of his jokes in the pilot of "Orville" should have died before they hit the page.

But I'll give him credit for one thing in what is being billed in many quarters as a comedic version of "Star Trek": The pilot, loaded with special effects and directed by Jon Favreau ("Iron Man"), has a sweet ending that may lead viewers to root for MacFarlane's character and the character's ex-wife.

MacFarlane's name has helped attract a strong cast. MacFarlane, who created and wrote the show, plays Ed Mercer, who is given a second chance when he is named the captain of "The Orville" after a year of falling apart after divorcing his unfaithful wife. Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights") plays his apologetic wife, Kelly, who comes back into his life as first officer. That initially leads to a lot of bickering and blaming that any viewer would know can't last.

Scott Grimes ("Justified"), plays Ed's cartoonish rule-breaking best friend, Gordon. Penny Johnson Jerald ("24"), Halston Sage ("Neighbors"), Peter Macon ("Shameless"), J Lee ("American Dad!") are among the actors also on board the U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploratory spaceship with a crew consisting of humans and aliens.

The opener is what is referred to in the TV business as a premise pilot, which introduces the story line and all the characters and their eccentricities – one guy needs to be able to drink soda on board. Ha, ha.

The opening plot, which is secondary, involves a secret aging weapon that an enemy is seeking. But as usual with these space shows, the enemy can't shoot straight. It also is outsmarted by strong female characters.

The jokes fly at a reasonable pace. Many of them can't be repeated here. The best one arrives near the end and involves seat belts.

Following NFL games the next two Sundays, "The Orville" should get off to a flying start in the ratings. It is never a good idea to bet against MacFarlane, but the pilot often falls as flat as week-old soda so things will have to improve fast.

The second episode, which has cameos from Holland Taylor and Jeffrey Tambor as Ed's parents, reduces the crude quotient. Unfortunately, it isn't any funnier than the premiere, except at the end when it takes a laudable shot at reality television.

I passed on the third episode made available for review and expect many viewers disappointed by the first two episodes will do so as well. But at least "The Orville" appears at times to have its heart in the right place and beats most of reality TV.


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