There’s a lot going on in pop culture at the moment, but somehow we’re still thinking about The Orville’s thrilling season two finale. Our immediate concern is that Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi series has yet to be renewed by Fox, but here’s hoping that’s coming soon, and we can turn our attention to the other things on this silly, but also somewhat serious (just like The Orville!), list.
Some spoilers follow if you’re not caught up on season two, so we’ll just leave this here...
Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Kelly (Adrianne Palicki)’s divorce has been one of The Orville’s emotional touchstones since the beginning. In the show’s first two seasons, it made sense that the various stages of their love story got a lot of attention. After sensing they both had lingering feelings, they tentatively decided to reconcile in season one—then broke up again when Kelly realized the professional conflict of interest was too great, and it might put the rest of the crew at risk if they stayed together. In season two, they both had new flames that didn’t last, and Ed’s reluctance to let Kelly go set the events of the season finale in motion. Though Ed ended up deciding against a second chance with a younger version of Kelly (and vice versa, thanks to various time-travel glitches), the finale showed us a very grim version alternate reality where they never got married, divorced, or served aboard the Orville.
With the timeline repaired, however, it’s high time the show shoved that “will-they/won’t-they” jar of pickles to the back of the shelf. It’s getting repetitive, and what’s now a genuine friendship between Kelly and Ed—built on mutual respect, despite their stormy past—is enough to propel the show forward. If there must be a romance, why not highlight one of the many other unlucky-in-love characters, and make it actually work out this time?
Season two introduced a few supporting players who came and went as the plot dictated, including Kelly’s (now-ex) boyfriend. But the only permanent new crew member was Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr), a member of the superstrong Xelayan race who filled the vacant Chief Security Officer position early in the season. Talla replaced another Xelayan, Alara (Halston Sage), who left her Planetary Union post after realizing she wanted to reconnect with her family (though a version of the character did pop up for a cameo in the finale).
Aside from Talla, however, no new faces joined the core cast in season two, and The Orville wisely dedicated several episodes almost entirely to character development. We saw Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) struggling with the frustrations of single motherhood and having an ill-advised fling with Isaac (Mark Jackson), a member of the robot-like Kaylon race. We saw Gordon (Scott Grimes) working through guilt after encountering a troubled friend from his past. And we learned a lot more about the male-centric customs and culture of Moclus through Bortus (Peter Macon) and his mate, Klyden (Chad Coleman).
Now that we have a good handle on most of the main characters—except for Talla, whose apparently colorful past has yet to be explored, hint hint—why not bring in a few more key characters to shake up the chemistry a bit? Or, turn some of that character-building focus on one or more of the less-prominent crew members? Those dudes in engineering who’re obsessed with casual Friday are probably best kept to small doses, but maybe The Orville could pay a visit to the home world of Yaphit (Norm Macdonald) and show us what an entire society of gelatinous creatures might look like—a fun prospect, especially given the obvious care the show takes in creating landscapes and architecture for the wide array of alien planets we’ve seen so far.
One more note on The Orville’s characters—season one featured several big-name guest stars, including Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, and Rob Lowe. By season two, The Orville had established itself enough that the show didn’t really need to bring in A-listers to gain interest. There were standout guests (Mackenzie Astin, Leighton Meester, hidden-under-prosthetics Jason Alexander and Patrick Warburton), but they all added to the story instead of inadvertently distracting from it. Well, except for that very brief, very bizarre turn by Bruce Willis as the voice of a talking flower...which was distracting, but in an excellently goofy way.
The Orville is consistently both comedy and drama, capable of injecting hilarious subplots (like Bortus and Klyden becoming instantly addicted to that ancient vice, nicotine, then furiously trying to quit) into more poignant larger storylines (in that same episode, a lonely Gordon falls for a 21st century woman whose personality he reconstructs using her ancient smartphone and the Orville’s virtual reality simulator). But the show has also had a fairly clear delineation between “contained episode delving into personal stuff” and “this one’s got SPACE BATTLES!”, especially during the second half of season two. As we’ve discussed, the character-focused episodes have great value, making us care about the crew so that when they inevitably face danger, the stakes feel that much higher. But season three would offer a great opportunity to blend those two types of episodes so there’s a more overall consistent tone for the show.
That said, the fact that The Orville kind of does its own thing from week to week, paying tribute to Star Trek and other well-known sci-fi properties when it wants to while also creating its own mythology, is one of the reasons it stands out. Its larger themes may reach for the stars, but its quirky asides—Bortus’ obsession with the corner piece of a sheet cake! John (J.Lee) advising Gordon that the best outfits are accessorized with an abundance of zippers! Random references to 20th-century music, like Billy Joel and Dolly Parton!—are a big part of what’s made it such a fan favorite, with good reason.
The Kaylon, whose goal is to annihilate all biological life in the universe, will certainly return if there’s a season three. We’ve visited their homeworld, we’ve seen what their well-armed ships can do (not to mention the guns that pop out of their heads), and the season two finale showed us what the universe might look like if their plan came close to completion. But what will their next move be, other than just showing back up and trying to take out the Orville again? And how will the show use Isaac in a different way than it did in season two, which saw him cruelly betraying his crewmates (including Claire, who was kinda his girlfriend at the time) before he realized he couldn’t allow his fellow Kaylons to succeed?
The Orvilles’ other big bad, the Krill, signed a peace treaty with the Planetary Union after fighting alongside humans in the battle against the Kaylon above Earth. But it’s a tentative agreement with a war-obsessed race that will no doubt hit some snags as time passes. The Orville has already had a plot very similar to one seen on Star Trek: Discovery, in which a Krill disguised herself as a human as part of a revenge scheme, but let’s hope The Orville doesn’t take any further inspiration from Trek, at least when it comes to the show’s recent, specific villains. That means no Harry Mudd equivalent, no riffs on Section 31, and no mirror universe. Please!
We’re only being half-serious here, but—come on, we all know Seth MacFarlane loves music. It’s basically his second career (fun fact: he’s an Oscar nominee for the theme song from Ted), and his Family Guy has had tons of musical moments. Singin’ in the Rain got a huge shout-out this season, we’ve heard Gordon sing on multiple occasions, and Kelly crooned a not-bad version of “Any Way You Want It” in a season one karaoke scene. And even though he has yet to actually sing a note on the show, Bortus’ pipes are apparently legendary. Plus, from week to week, The Orville’s tremendous, orchestral musical scores are a consistent highlight. It would be self-indulgent as hell—but The Orville: The Musical would still be pretty goddamn epic.
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