“I miss optimism”: The “Family Guy” creator wants to bring back hopeful science fiction

“It can’t all be “The Hunger Games.'”
“It can’t all be “The Hunger Games.'”
Image: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP
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Apocalyptic nightmares are already all around us, but the science fiction genre today is still doubling down on dystopia, sending TV-watchers and filmgoers further into the abyss of our inevitably dismal future. But one Hollywood player wants to put an end to that, and he’s starting by creating a new series that aims to return to the optimistic side of sci-fi.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the popular animated series Family Guy, is writing, producing, and starring in a new television show on Fox called The Orville, a Star Trek-inspired comedic drama set aboard a starship 400 years in the future. MacFarlane, a noted space enthusiast who helped produce the award-winning docuseries Cosmos (hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson), said he yearned to return to the days of Star Trek, when the sci-fi genre demonstrated the amazing things humanity could achieve when it worked together.

“I miss the forward thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that Star Trek used to occupy,” MacFarlane told a group of TV critics and reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour last week. MacFarlane said that a lot of dystopian science fiction is great and very entertaining, but not everything should be a nightmare scenario.

“There’s some space for the aspirational blueprint of what we could do if we get our shit together,” he added.

The original Star Trek TV series is often considered one of the greatest works of science fiction of the 20th century, celebrated for its themes of inclusiveness, diversity, and teamwork at a time of great civil unrest in the United States. Two of its progeny, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, helped usher in an era of lighthearted, encouraging sci-fi fare in the 1990s.

Recently, though, the trend in Hollywood has been to show how truly bad things may get in the future. Films like The Hunger GamesMad Max, the Divergent series, and Planet of the Apes routinely top the US and international box offices. Dystopia has even begun to seep into the superhero genre, as films like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Batman v Superman imagine futures in which evil has gained power. Others in the genre—namely The Matrix and the Terminator series—depict the nightmare of our future technology turning against us.

“I’m tired of being told that everything is going to be grim and dystopian and people are going to be murdering each other for food,” MacFarlane said. “I’ve had enough of that.”

Fox’s marketing for The Orville implies it’s a pure comedy, but in reality the series is more tonally inconsistent, fluctuating between parody, drama, and pure Star Trek homage. It premieres Sept. 10.