Dear Seth MacFarlane…

You’ll probably never read this, but I need to get it off my chest.

First, let me just say all respects to you, man.  You are a talented voice actor and have made it in Hollywood and nobody can take that away from you.  You’ve done some great work, I’ve loved some of it, and for that – thank you.

And let me thank you for the Orville.  I’ve finally gotten around to watching it and it’s a great tribute from a fan to other fans. I love so much that you’ve gotten right in that show.

It’s just… what happened to your comedic timing?

Maybe some of it is network censors, I get those can be a hassle, but it almost seems like sometime after your “Peter skins his knee” gag you’ve somehow become convinced that every gag needs to be an overly-long gag.  Please, do the show a favor and try following these two rules: 1) Limit yourself to ONE long gag an episode – exactly 1.  2) Cut 10% out of your jokes.

Note that I don’t want you to cut 10% of the jokes out of your show, just that the jokes themselves need to be trimmed by about 10%.  I have some examples.

In episode 1 when the ship calls a station, there is a dog licking its balls behind the main scientist.  Funny.  You even have the makings of a great running joke where every “on screen” call has something happening in the background for audiences to look for.  That’s awesome.  BUT then after it you have the two “front row” dudes comment: “Did you see that dog?”

NO!  Mr. MacFarlane, you don’t explain the joke.  Or if you want to do that, do it at a right angle from the punchline.  For an example, after hanging up the call have the pilot say, “Hey captain, can I have a dog?” Captain: “No.”
OR
After the call ends, the captain selects his team to go to the planet, and as they leave we hear him shout something like: “New policy, no dogs allowed on the bridge!”

Let’s take another example.  Later in that episode, the Captain & Co. are trying to escape the facility.  They come to a large, bank-like door they need to get through.  Unable to open it, the Captain gestures to his Security Officer (a tiny girl in a grand tradition of comedy juxtiposition) who then breaks the door down.  After that, the Captain says, “I loosened it for you.”

Now this joke just does not work.  The humor doesn’t even arise from the captain being an idiot as he just asked for the Security Chief to do what she did.  Why is he upset that something worked in the way he intended?  The only way for that punchline to work is:

  • The Captain tries the door and fails.
  • Says they have to find another way.
  • The ExO (pun intended) turns to the security chief and asks her to hit the door.
  • Security Chief knocks the whole wall down.
  • THEN have the punchline.

Now, compare that scene, with this one:

See?  Quick, simple, silent, and hilarious.  Cut out the punchline in yours, trim 10% off the joke, and it gets funnier.

Let’s take the end of episode 1.

How about instead of the bridge asking about Arbor day, we make it shorter:

Captain: “Happy Arbor Day.”
–enemy ship destroyed–
ExO: “No wonder you failed Quipping 201.”
Captain: Expression says: ‘what?’ Mouth says: “Well what would you have said?”
ExO: “Now you’ve got wood.”
Captain: “Damn, that is better.”

In fact, I’ll take my own advice, let’s trim 10% out of the example and have the captain just make a face and say, “Damn.”

See? I probably laughed hardest when the captain ran through crewman Blob and part of that was because it was short.

The bit where the captain & exO argue about their relationship in front of the bad alien is my pick for what should have been your single long gag in the episode.

The last and final bit of advice I beg you to remember (because I have no doubt you’ve probably forgotten more comedic lessons than I’ve learned), is that jokes are usually funnier when shown than told.

Now this can go in two directions.  The first is when there’s a deliberate contrast between show and tell.  One infamous example is that in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, the writers had a running gag where everybody on the show talked about how the alien Morn would never shut up, but the audience never actually saw or heard Morn utter a word.  This is why I’m reserving judgement on the robot in the show.  So far in the first two episodes we have had character talk about how the robot is a horrible racist.  Now, I love Bender from Futurama and that show really knew how to use his “racism” for comedy.  I keep looking for that style of humor on the show in regards to the robot but it hasn’t come up yet.  Maybe because you are going for a Morn-style contrast joke?  I’ll wait and see, it’s just some of the other comedic missteps make wonder whether you are doing this intentionally or not.

Onto the other example of visual gags.  While I quite understand the necessity of telling AND showing when it comes to speculative fiction, it strikes me that your use of telling is causing you to miss out on some great jokes.  For example, you have the tiny girl security chief be super strong.  That’s a fine comedy trope used in a variety of works, a good number of them on my shelves.  In a lot of them, we are shown the tiny girl using her strength in the service of jokes.  So for an example, instead of telling us via the captain that she’s super strong, what if there was a running gag where every time she shakes someone’s hand they wince and nearly cry?  We at least had something along those lines in episode 2 when she gets frustrated enough she crushes the captain’s desk by accident.

A lot of the other stuff works.  When the navigator took a sip of his drink while flying, I laughed.  Bortus so far seems set to be your breakout character as the deadpan straightman on the crew.  I want to like this show but it could be even funnier.  Just please, Mr. MacFarlane, trim the jokes and try showing them more than you tell them.  I want a couple of good seasons out of this.  Even though you’re on Fox which means I don’t have a lot of faith that it will survive long.

Good luck, I’ll try to have a more in depth review of everything else about it later.

Sincerely

A fan.

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13 thoughts on “Dear Seth MacFarlane…

  1. Apparently those long gags get big laughs at the family guy table reads. I don’t know if Seth himself actually thinks those are funnier, but he has surrounded himself with people who do.

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