I had been looking forward to the return of The Orville on television. I had enjoyed much of the first season and often watched it with my dad, who’s a big fan of sci-fi like the old Star Trek.
However, after watching the first two episodes of Season 2, my enthusiasm for The Orville evaporated like a planet’s oceans near a massive sun (see episode two of The Orville). I was also glad I didn’t watch these episodes with my dad, as they are unfunny, not entertaining and not what I was expecting, based off the first season.
Watching the trailer for Season 2, you’d think you’d be in for another light-hearted and zany romp across the galaxy with Seth MacFarlane’s Captain Mercer and his wacky crew. You’d be wrong. We only visit two worlds, albeit briefly, in the first two episodes. Seth MacFarlane’s character is essentially sidelined. Crew members are the focus of these episodes and the focus is not on the funny crew members. Any humor to be found is awkward humor and it is painful to watch.
Apparently, Captain Mercer and his ex-wife, Commander Grayson, have broken up between seasons, so Ed is drinking away his evenings in the ship’s bar. Kelly is dating a teacher now. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Finn is having trouble with her teenage son, Marcus. Bortus is preparing for his species’ annual Ja’loja ceremony. Everyone is trying to find dates to the ceremony. LaMarr is trying to help his friend, Malloy, work up the courage to ask out the new girl. Finally, Alara is set-up on a blind date with Dann.
Obviously, that’s a lot to unpack in one episode.
However, as I said, most of the comedy is awkward humor and the rest of the episode is full of drama. I’m sorry, but if I want awkward humor, I’ll go watch Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Office. If I want sci-fi drama, I’d go watch Star Trek: Discovery or The Expanse.
I understand that The Orville is trying to become more of an homage to the original Star Trek than a parody of it. But the movie Galaxy Quest was reverent of the concept and gave us rich characters, while still making us laugh. We don’t have a TV show like Galaxy Quest on these days and we already have a Star Trek show… is all I’m sayin’.
If you thought episode two would ramp up the comedy, when episode one did not, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Episode two focuses on the supporting character of Bortus and his relationship to his mate, Klyden. Their relationship has been having problems and Bortus has taken to coming home late after work, because he’s been visiting the holographic simulator. What kind of simulations has he been running, you ask? Erotic ones of a sexual nature. Did I mention that Bortus’s race is all male? You can imagine the sorts of scenarios the audience is shown. Because The Orville is an hour-long program, we are shown multiple scenarios of the kind I was not expecting to see on basic television.
It’s little wonder we weren’t privy to this main story in any of the trailers or promos, even though it’s the majority of the episode.
Now, this episode did have a message and showed that Bortus’s behavior had consequences… but I don’t know how many viewers stuck around to learn it.
The Orville needs to ramp up the comedy if it wants the audience to stick around to hear it preach. I don’t always agree with the messages that Seth MacFarlane espouses in his other shows, but at least Family Guy and American Dad! have enough comedy and cutaways to keep me around to hear them. If I wasn’t reviewing The Orville, I would have found something else to watch.
It doesn’t help that The Orville doesn’t appear to have as many comedy actors pulling their weight on its show this season. MacFarlane (Peter Griffin on Family Guy and Stan Smith on American Dad!) is all mopey and depressed. I haven’t seen Norm MacDonald’s character around. Larry Joe Cambell (Andy on According to Jim)’s character was written-off the show last season so that J. Lee’s character could be given a promotion in Engineering. This means less of the comedy duo of LaMarr and Malloy — J. Lee and Scott Grimes (Steve Smith on American Dad!) — on the bridge. They could have given LaMarr’s spot at the controls to a female comedian, but instead cast a pretty face for Malloy to ask out in the first episode. The character of Dann, played by Mike Henry (Cleveland Brown on Family Guy), has been given a larger role this season, but his is that awkward kind of humor that I don’t care for — he was the alien in the elevator in Season 1.
Seth MacFarlane could have gotten one of his celebrity friends to appear on the show and make an impact. After appearing together in A Million Ways to Die in the West, both Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson appeared in Season 1 of The Orville. I’d love to see Giovanni Ribisi make an appearance; I love his work on Sneaky Pete (as I’ve written here) and that shows he’s not beneath appearing on a TV show. MacFarlane has also worked with Amanda Seyfried in Ted 2. Speaking of which, it might also be a stretch, but an appearance by his Ted collaborator, Mark Wahlberg, would make viewers sit up and pay attention to The Orville.
“As Time Goes By” is playing when MacFarlane’s character is boozing it up at the bar. I half expected to see Norah Jones on the piano. The two have collaborated on several songs and she made a cameo in the movie Ted. The jazz tune is perfect for her and a celebrity cameo could have given the season premiere the power it needed.
Going forward, The Orville needs to play to its comedy strengths, instead of trying to be a drama. There are already other space dramas out there with more dramatic actors and better special effects…