NEW YORK — “The Orville” could prove doubly surprising for viewers.
First, because it’s a lavish retro-futuristic sci-fi hour boasting elements of drama, comedy, adventure, even the occasional Big Thought. Not exactly your typical TV concoction.
Second, because it’s the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, who at 43 continues to be lionized (and scorned by some) as the enfant terrible behind cheeky hits such as Fox’s long-running animated sitcom “Family Guy” and the two “Ted” stuffed-bear romps.
“I come out of comedy, and this is my first foray into quote-unquote drama,” MacFarlane allows. “But I do feel like I’m very, very well-versed in science fiction. I’ve been reading it and watching it my whole life.”
And now — as creator, writer, an executive producer and leading man — he’s launching the sci-fi series he says he dreamed about even before his breakout success with “Family Guy” while still in his early 20s. A show that HE would want to watch. A show he says he sees no one else doing. (“The Orville” premiered on Fox on Sept. 10, before settling into its Thursday berth Sept. 21.)
Set 400 years in the future, the series travels with the U.S.S. Orville, described as “a mid-level exploratory spaceship,” with MacFarlane as its captain, Adrianne Palicki as his first officer (and, awkwardly, his adulterous ex-wife), plus a diverse crew of humans and aliens played by Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon and others in a sizable cast.
If all that sounds a bit like the original “Star Trek,” so be it: MacFarlane speaks of watching “Star Trek” as a youngster with his dad; he took a class, “The Philosophy of ‘Star Trek,’ ” in college. And now he’s doing it himself, with a series that aims to reinstate some of that bygone sci-fi wonder to a genre.
“Can you ‘casualize’ science fiction — that’s the only word I can come up with — and still tell a meaningful story within the genre?” he wonders aloud during a whirlwind New York visit this week. “That’s something I haven’t seen.”
Of course, neither MacFarlane nor anyone else has yet glimpsed the series that might claim closest kinship to “The Orville.” That would be the new “Star Trek” revival premiering on the CBS All Access subscription service on Sept. 24. But MacFarlane expects “Star Trek: Discovery” to go boldly in its own new “Star Trek” direction, while “The Orville” will be, in his words, “a little more old school.”
One difference for sure: “Discovery” will be the first “Star Trek” to be serialized, while “The Orville” episodes will each be self-contained — “a little movie each week,” MacFarlane says.