‘The Orville’ review: Seth MacFarlane’s love letter to ‘Star Trek’

On TV: ‘The Orville’ premieres on Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox. Starting Sept. 21, the show movies to its regular time slot, Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox.

If one thing is clear from watching “The Orville,” it is that Seth MacFarlane loves “Star Trek.”

The creator of “Family Guy” and “American Dad” doesn’t just beam in a “Galaxy Quest” kind of spoof with his new show. Rather, he has brought to life a seriocomic homage to “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

The hourlong episodes have more drama than you’d expect, especially as you get past the pilot. The third episode, in particular, tackles a serious social issue, and you can just imagine how pleased Gene Roddenberry would be with it.

Rather than being staffed with the best of the best, like you’d find on any Starship Enterprise, the starship Orville is run by the best of what’s available.

Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) was once a promising crewman until he ran into his wife Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) in bed with an alien and going on an extended bender.

So he finds himself at the helm of The Orville — a midlevel exploratory vessel — because, well, as Admiral Halsey (the great Victor Garber) tells him: they have 3,000 ships to staff.

The makeup of the rest of the crew follows the “Trek” model of diversity, throwing in some extraterrestrial beings for good measure, with an “Orville” spin on it.

That means there’s an alien with a racist attitude toward humans (Isaac, played by Mark Jackson), an alien from a single-gender species (the brutish Bortus, played by Peter Macon), a helmsman with a dangerous streak (Gordon Malloy, played by Scott Grimes) and a vastly overqualified doctor (Claire Finn, played by “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” veteran Penny Johnson Jerald).

And the twist — and slight spoiler, though it was revealed in the trailer — is that Mercer’s first officer is his ex-wife. As Peter Griffin would say, “Drama!”

There is no doubt that a love of “ST:TNG” will amplify your adoration for this series. It feels like an extension of that universe in all the best ways, which is surely helped by some familiar “Trek” alumni behind the scenes, including executive producer and director Brannon Braga, who worked on “TNG,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise.” You’ll also find Jonathan Frakes (William Riker from “TNG”) and Robert Duncan McNeill (Lt. Tom Paris from “Voyager) in the director’s seat.

It doesn’t hurt either that the show looks really good. The aliens have a unique appearance and the visual effects stand out even on a review screener copy, where they were seen unfinished. The design of the starship Orville is inventive and the score recalls the uplifting orchestral work heard on “TNG.”

Of course, there is an actual new “Star Trek” series, “Discovery,” coming to CBS for its pilot on Sept. 24 before moving to their $5.99-a-month streaming service ($9.99 monthly sans commercials). The trailer for that show look pretty intense.

Having not seen “Discovery” yet, it’s impossible to gauge how good that show will be, but one thing can be said for sure: There is at least one fun and worthy “Star Trek” series this fall.