This The Orville review contains spoilers.
The Orville Season 1, Episode 2
It’s a damn good thing The Orville had a good story this week following Alara Kitan’s journey as a leader because man-oh-man, the attempts at humor at the start of the episode were difficult to slog through. This show isn’t a Star Trek spoof; it’s a modernized homage, and if it continues to have interesting aliens like this week’s zookeepers and heartfelt character moments such as the reminiscences Ed and Kelly share or the pep talks Claire gives Alara, The Orville will enjoy more success with viewers. There was much to love about this episode… just not at the beginning.
Did anyone find Ed’s attempts at humor with Bortus any funnier than the worst dad jokes? Granted, the moment was designed to be uncomfortable and Moclans appear to be a fairly stoic race, but it was so protracted for the viewer! And following it up with the even more awkward conversation with Ed’s parents, played with uncharacteristic banality by Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor, was excruciating. When Captain Mercer told Bortus that he wasn’t going to try jokes with him anymore, the audience likely sighed with relief.
That’s not to say there weren’t good jokes. When Bortus leaves to sit on his egg, Ed’s comment, “I want eggs now,” does get a chuckle. And Lamarr and Malloy continue to display their great chemistry at the helm by commenting on Lieutenant Kitan’s desire to look for clues about the deceptive alien probe as sounding like something Dora the Explorer might say. Oddly, we don’t question the fact that the reference to the children’s show is dated even in our time; it still elicits a laugh.
The same could be said for the trade that Lieutenant Malloy comes up with to assist in rescuing the captain and the XO: the entire vault of Earth reality TV for their freedom. It’s an enjoyable punchline, even though one would hope the Real Housewives or the Kardashians would have fallen into obscurity. The fascination that the supposedly superior Kaylon race have for what they call the “best exhibit ever,” somehow seems totally believable while lending the perfect humorous note to the conclusion of the adventure.
But the dramatic elements of The Orville are even better, making us wish for more subtle humor thrown in only occasionally rather than attempts to shoehorn Family Guy jokes into a live action space adventure. Alara already stood out in the premiere as a character trying to prove herself as both physically and emotionally strong in spite of her youth. This week she shines, both as a character growing into her position on the ship and as an illustration of the more understated approach at humor when she defies Union orders by saying, “They can bite me because we’re going anyway!” That’s not something you’d hear on a Federation starship!
And Alara’s eventual defiance of Admiral Tucker’s orders is interesting, too. If the captains of Star Trek wanted to go against a direct order, they had to be much more underhanded about it, and any consequences were served with a wink and a nod. Here, the entire ship’s complement cheers when Alara prioritizes her crewmates over the silly protocols, almost as if The Orville were an office comedy in which the corporate fuddy-duddies were being justifiably overruled rather than a space opera in which a military command were being disobeyed.
Similarly, the interplay between Ed and Kelly in their apartment prison plays so much better if it’s viewed like a conversation between Jim and Pam in The Office. The dialogue was noticeably more comfortable than most we’ve seen, whether they were reminiscing or fighting; it genuinely felt real. The chemistry between Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki is developing nicely, and the hot and cold nature of their relationship is really setting a compelling foundation for their dynamic moving forward.
The plot element that garnered the most interest, though, small as it was, has got to be the surprise ending with Bortus and Klyden finally hatching their egg. Let’s put aside the fact that Captain Mercer seriously needs to undergo cultural sensitivity training for asking blithely about Moclan procreation as though he’s a mid-20th century American laughingly asking a Japanese business acquaintance if he really eats raw fish. The look on Chad L. Coleman’s face when he sees they’ve impossibly hatched a daughter (the Moclan are all male) is priceless. What will happen next? Now, we’ve really got something here!
It’s that kind of sci-fi plot that will allow The Orville to succeed, not the comedic scenes that go on too long. Quick quips like Lamarr comparing Isaac’s ability to walk among the Kaylon to a white guy being allowed to “go to Compton as long as a black guy says it’s cool” is much more effective. Once the audience understands where The Orville is coming from and once the writers figure out what works with viewers, the show might just find its niche.
As a reminder, the next episode of The Orville will air on Thursday, September 21 at 9pm ET and on Thursdays at 9 thereafter.