MacFarlane is a longtime fan of Star Trek. He even reunited the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation on an episode of Family Guy and himself appeared in two episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Knowing how big of a Trek fan MacFarlane is, it is probably safe to assume that even the most coincidental-seeming similarity to Star Trek could be an intentional homage.
For example, there is a scene where The Orville communicates with Dr. Aranov on Science Station Epsilon 2 and there is a beagle licking itself in the background. This might be taken as just MacFarlane’s typical comedy at work, and it probably is partly that, but knowing that MacFarlane appeared on two episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise leads us to believe that specifically choosing for the dog to be a beagle is a reference to Porthos, Captain John Archer’s beagle from Star Trek: Enterprise.
Let’s look at the larger picture, as The Orville as a very concept is a Star Trek homage. The Orville as a ship wouldn’t look out of place in a fleet of vessels from the Star Trek universe. Main character Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is enlisted in the Planetary Union, a clear reference to the Federation of Planets from Star Trek. Mercer takes command of a “mid-level exploratory vessel,” which seems to indicate it will have a mission similar to that of the Enterprise in Star Trek.
The Planetary Union also uses color coded uniforms to indicate what a person does on board a ship or space station, just as Starfleet did in Star Trek. In The Orville, Blue seems to indicate command while green signifies medical/science and red indicates operations/security.
The crew also seem to fall into familiar Star Trek archetypes as well. Lt. Commander Bortus, the ship’s second officer, is cast in the same mold as the stern Klingon Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Isaac, the artificial intelligence from Kaylon, is the science-minded officer representing “the other,” much like Spock and Data from Star Trek, though Isaac subverts the expectations of this kind of character by looking down on his crewmates rather than aspire to be more like them, as Data did.
Gordon Malloy and John LaMarr serve as helmsman and navigator, providing occasional commentary on what’s going on onboard the ship much like Sulu and Chekov sometimes did in Star Trek: The Original Series.
It is also probably no coincidence that it is Captain Ed Mercer, First Officer Commander Kelly Grayson, and Dr. Claire Finn who go on the show's first away mission as they mirror the core trio of Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, and Dr. McCoy from Star Trek: The Original Series.
When Mercer goes searching for Malloy to recruit him onto the Orville, he finds his friend enjoying a game in a holographic simulation chamber that is clearly based on the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The comedic scene of Mercer and Malloy chatting as they approach the docked Orville may be a send up of the lengthy sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture in which Kirk and Scotty approach the retrofitted Enterprise.
Other more subtle and playful references to Star Trek include Malloy referring to his piloting skills as being “like threading a needle in a hurricane,” much in the same way that complicated science is often explained with a simple analogy on Star Trek, and the moment when Mercer brings up a Krill on the ship’s viewscreen and has to ask him to step a little to the side so that he'll be centered in the frame, which is a nod to one of Star Trek’s long-standing narrative concessions.
The Orville is sure to contain more Star Trek Easter Eggs in future episodes. The two-night premiere concludes this Sunday on Fox. The series will then move to Thursday night after Gotham.