The Orville's greatest strength lies within its female cast

Contributed by
Feb 16, 2018

The Orville has done a fantastic job throughout its first season of scratching our itch for a sci-fi dramedy mixed with slice-of-life curiosity. Seth MacFarlane clearly has the chops to write a strong and engrossing show that's managed to soar despite naysayers and those who have downplayed it as a "Star Trek clone." 

Having enjoyed week after week of creative and engaging storytelling from The Orville, I can say with confidence that it's much, much more than that. And one of the driving forces behind its greatness is its unique set of female characters who are given more to do than sit behind a console and follow commands. 

The Orville's debut didn't impress me much. Neither did Adrianne Palicki as Commander Kelly Grayson, or her character's history with Seth MacFarlane's Ed Mercer. The two portray a divorced couple who ended up working together side by side as coworkers and friends on the U.S.S. Orville. The storyline didn't strike me as engaging or interesting, as it just seemed like another excuse to shoehorn in some sort of romantic storyline that simply didn't need to exist.

As a result, I rolled my eyes whenever Kelly became the focal point of any one of the Orville's adventures. But as the show began to wear on, Kelly became much more than just Ed's ex-wife and the constant foil to his plans. She demonstrated how benevolent and giving she really was, owning up to her past mistakes and even becoming a beacon of hope for the rest of the team despite the differences she and Ed initially squabbled over.

She became a particularly interesting character when, met with becoming a deity to generations of people, she ended up throwing it all away for the greater good. Her post opened her up to some particularly interesting adventures, which found the rest of the female crew members stepping up to fill some intriguing plotlines as well.

It's not that the women are the only members of the Orville cast who make for fresh storytelling, as every character gets their chance to shine at least once throughout the first season, but the show offered a number of ways to keep them in the spotlight beyond finding them love interests -- or worse, saddling them with children or other "feminine" duties. It was a breath of fresh air to finally see crew members who weren't only given stories I wanted to follow but remained true to their characters throughout the series. 

Credit: Fox

For instance, Lt. Alara Kitan, the super-strong chief of security, is a member of the Xeleyan race. Save for some facial anomalies that would set her apart from humans, she's outwardly conventionally attractive and a lot like regular Earthling women, so with the right hat and disguise, she could easily be the girl next door. The character already subverts the usual expectations that a female member of the crew would get assigned to science or medical duties (or something similar, as we normally see). Instead, she's tasked with beating enemies into submission, opening heavy doors, or using her strength for some pretty cool effects. 

She's allowed to be both strong and beautiful, even acting commander in several pivotal moments during the series. She demonstrates important leadership traits, and she's commended for them. More than that, she's a good role model despite her missteps here and there, which usually stem from feelings of inadequacy. 

Dr. Claire Finn, who happens to hold the rank of lieutenant commander, is a no-nonsense doctor who must fend away the advances of the jelly-like Yaphit, who can often be seen trying to get the doctor to fall in love with him, or at the very least have some sort of intercourse with him (which does eventually happen, but that's another story and another article). Despite having to put up with this nonsense, Finn is an excellent doctor and a caring mother, as demonstrated when she takes care of sons Marcus and Ty, who take a liking to the Orville's artificial being, Isaac. The single mother is a symbol of strength and acts as a rock several times for the rest of the cast throughout the series. Penny Johnson Jerald's portrayal only strengthens the role, which only continues to evolve over the course of the show. 

Together, the women of The Orville make for a more interesting, multifaceted narrative that's enriched by the ship's multiple different personalities meshing together as one. Without Kelly's kindness and bravery, Alara's relatable dilemmas and strength, and Dr. Finn's impeccable knowledge and stalwart resolve, it would be a completely different show. Here's hoping we see a fleet of additional women coming aboard at some point, because the ship's big enough for lots more of them.