by Kevin McDonough
"The Orville" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) has been criticized as creator Seth MacFarlane's personal cosplay trip. But beneath its geekdom lurks a show that wants to return TV to the days when writers such as Gene Roddenberry used science fiction to discuss and explore contemporary controversies.
The original "Star Trek" was among the first shows to cast black and Asian characters in principal roles, and it was never shy about evoking the problems of its day. Chief among them, then as now, was racism.
On tonight's "Orville," the ship visits a planet that very much resembles 21st-century Earth. An effort to extract two of their scientists from this planet runs up against its peculiar justice system, one that bases law on "majority rule" instead of a set of constitutional principles. They learn that things can get ugly when matters of justice are based on the emotions and whims of a momentary majority.
Fans of "The Orville" and its retro take on topicality might enjoy TCM's deep dive into 1970s dystopian science fiction, including "The Omega Man" (8 p.m.) from 1971 and the 1976 thriller "Logan's Run" (10 p.m.).
"The Orville" isn't the only series to wade into topicality. Two weeks ago, "Great News" seemed to anticipate the headlines with a satirical take on workplace sexual harassment. Tonight's "Grey's Anatomy" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14) involves characters' flashbacks to Iraq. Violence toward police officers animates a gruesome serial killer on the lurid comic book series "Gotham" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
The thoughts being provoked on some series transcend mere headlines. Set in an experimental fabrication of a fantastical afterlife, "The Good Place" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) continually challenges viewers - not to mention its characters - to think about the very nature of existence and questions of right and wrong.
The very artificiality of this "heaven" and the ever-changing roles assigned to each character leave some wondering if there is a difference between selfishness and altruism.
Then again, the narrative's repetitive use of a "reset" button leaves some wondering if anything about the series matters at all.
Perhaps the divided reaction to "The Good Place" reflects the differences between people who see the show as effervescent, if empty, comedy, and those who enjoy it as a brilliant game.
TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
- FXX scares up a four-hour marathon of "Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror" episodes, ranging from "III" (8 p.m.) to "XXV" (11:30 p.m.).
- The Baltimore Ravens host the Miami Dolphins in "Thursday Night Football" (8:25 p.m., CBS, NFL). This game also streams live on Amazon Prime.
- Contestants create fashions for breast cancer survivors known as "Warrior Women" on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
- Links to Al Capone loom large on the season finale of "Mysteries at the Museum" (9 p.m., Travel, TV-PG).
- A surprising client needs help on "Scandal" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
Disentangling a teen from barbed wire sparks arguments on "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
- Bonnie wants the dope on Annalise's big case on "How to Get Away With Murder" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
Timothy Olyphant stars in the 2010 shocker "The Crazies" (7:17 p.m., Starz Encore), about small-town residents turned into bloodthirsty maniacs by a toxic substance. A remake of a low-budget film from 1973 written and directed by the late George Romero.
One Halloween "decoration" proves far too real on "Superstore" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) ... Loretta Devine guest-stars on "Supernatural" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Grace gets a dream job working for a nightmare client on "Will & Grace" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) ... Onyx arrives on "Arrow" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Kate shows off some hip connections on "Great News" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
Miles Teller and Jason Hall are booked on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) ... JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Paul Weller appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) ... Julianne Moore, Jermaine Fowler and Capt. Scott Kelly are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Kelly Ripa, Jim Jefferies, Cole Swindell and Stokley on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Susan Sarandon, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and ODESZA appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC) ... Liev Schreiber, Cheryl Hines, Mikey Day and Sonny Emory visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) ... Dustin Hoffman, Kenneth Branagh and Jordan Spieth appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).