With just a few episodes left in The Orville’s first season, it’s safe to say that Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek homage has carved out its own place in the scifi comedy universe. Though not every episode has hit its mark, the show has likable characters and a diverse range of stories—and a big part of its appeal can be chalked up to its consistent stream of funny, shocking, random, and just plain weird moments. Here are our favorites so far.
To spring Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and Commander Kelly Greyson (Adrianne Palicki) from an alien zoo in “Command Performance,” Lieutenant Alara Kitan (Halston Sage)—with an assist from Lieutenant Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), resident expert in historic Earth pop culture—presents their Calivon captors with a trade too tempting to resist: hours and hours of trashy reality TV. Though the Calivon are so technologically advanced they view every other species with snobbish disdain, the programming—including Duck Dynasty, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and all the table-flipping theatrics of Real Housewives of New Jersey—leaves the red-skinned creatures totally enraptured, and the Orville crew slinks away unharmed.
The Orville has had several high-profile celebrity cameos, but the MVP so far has been Liam Neeson (who starred in MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West). He pops up as Captain Dorahl on “If the Stars Should Appear,” which sees The Orville crew stumble upon a massive bio-ship whose inhabitants don’t realize they’re drifting dangerously in space. In fact, they don’t even know they’re on a ship at all. Neeson’s part is small—he just appears in a centuries-old recorded message at the end of the episode—but his message is a crucial one. And because he’s such a massive presence, the brief moment has a surprising amount of impact.
At the start of “Krill,” members of the crew can barely contain their delight upon learning that Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Peter Macon) can eat absolutely anything—an evolutionary quirk of the harsh environment of his home planet, Moclus. This applies to both organic and inorganic matter, so of course everyone starts giving him crazier and crazier things to eat, which he does deadpan gusto: a napkin, a cactus plant, a drinking glass, and very nearly a bag of nails before a pesky distress call interrupts everyone’s fun.
Here’s another Bortus interruptus moment. At the start of “Cupid’s Arrow,” which is kind of The Orville’s answer to a screwball romance (but definitely takes a turn for the icky, as you will see later on the list), the gang has assembled for a rousing night of karaoke. Kelly finishes up a spirited rendition of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” and an even-more-serious-than-usual Bortus (who solemnly bragged about his singing talent in a previous episode) takes the stage. The intro music to “My Heart Will Go On” begins to play... and just as he opens his mouth to croon, the bridge beeps in with an urgent message from a Fleet Admiral. Truly, it’s difficult to say who is more disappointed to be deprived of what sonic magnificence might’ve been: the Orville crew, or the viewers at home. We’ll never let go, Bortus.
In “Into the Fold,” a family vacation for the Orville’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) and her two young sons takes a scary turn when their shuttle crash-lands on a toxic planet populated by cannibalistic mutants. Fortunately, the Orville’s Science and Engineering Officer, Isaac (Mark Jackson), an artificial being from Kaylon-1, is there to help kick cannibal mutant ass while they wait to be rescued. The Orville gets awfully Hills Have Eyes-meets-The Walking Dead for a hot minute, but fortunately the show’s resident robot has much better aim than he does social skills.
“Cupid’s Dagger” has a couple of different storylines, but they’re all affected by the arrival of Darulio (Rob Lowe), an alien archaeologist who’s called in to help settle a dispute between two other alien species. As it happens, Darulio is the guy Kelly cheated on Ed with, leading to the breakup of their marriage—and the awkwardness continues when it’s revealed that Darulio emits a pheromone that inspires an array of strange love connections. The oddest is between Dr. Claire and Lieutenant Yaphit (smarmily voiced by Norm Macdonald)—odd not just because he’s hit on her and been outright rejected in multiple previous episodes, but also because he’s a gelatinous blob. Their hook-up (and subsequent break-up, which sees Dr. Claire morph into a crazy stalker) is uncomfortable on so many levels.
Though “About a Girl” is a mostly-serious episode about Bortus and his mate, who want their (female) baby to conform to the norm of their (almost entirely male) species, The Orville still makes room for one of its trademark detours into random weirdness with this sequence. The Orville’s juvenile yet insanely talented helmsman, Gordon, is also the master manipulator of the ship’s version of the Star Trek holodeck. Ed and Lieutenant John LaMarr (J. Lee) think they’re riding up for a good old-fashioned (simulated) Wild West showdown, but thanks to Gordon, the heavily armed outlaw challenges them to a dance-off instead—and starts popping and locking as “Girls Just Want t Have Fun” cheerfully blares in the background.
The holodeck returns in “Firestorm,” when Alara, the ship’s young but super-strong Chief of Security, takes refuge in a simulated boxing gym when she blames herself for the death of a crew member in an engine-room accident. This is a foreshadowing of the episode’s later events, which see a guilt-ridden Alara lock herself into a crisis simulator that tests every fear she could possibly imagine. (See #2 for the worst one.) But before that, her therapy punching session keeps getting held up by other officers. Some stop by out of concern, but others (specifically Gordon, John, and Bortus) would just like her to hurry up so they can get their old-timey duel on. We never get to see them fire those pistols, but we do get to admire their goofy, wig-topped outfits.
At the start of “If the Stars Should Appear,” Bortus’ mate, Klyden (Chad Coleman), is bummed out about their marital problems. Bortus has become distant and preoccupied with his official duties, and they have a new baby taking up all their free time—basically, the situation is tense and not getting any better. So Klyden does the only thing he can, throwing a pity party fueled by some new-to-him methods: Eating Earth-style “depression food” (he settles on Rocky Road ice cream) and “watching something that will make me happy” (the computer calls up The Sound of Music). Weirdly, even though Bortus had an epiphany in an earlier episode after watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he’s less than understanding about his partner’s indulgences in sugar and showtunes.
The Orville’s first episode, “Old Wounds,” devotes a fair amount of screentime to establishing its characters, especially Ed and Kelly, whose divorce a year prior is a source of bitterness that’s frequently referenced on the series. That could get awfully tiresome, but the show also makes sure we (and they) realize that no matter their past turmoil, they still make an excellent team on the job. Case in point: A quick-thinking Kelly saves the day by blowing up an attacking ship using a redwood tree seed and a time-acceleration device, a simple yet spectacularly successful plan that shows everyone she’s more than just Ed’s ex-wife.
Ed and Gordon embark on a dangerous undercover mission after gaining access to a ship belonging to The Orville’s Klingon equivalent, the Krill. The Krill are a brutal, war-obsessed enemy—but not everyone they meet is pure evil, including a soft-spoken teacher and her curious young students. However, the dudes are there to steal a religious text, so they make sure to attend the Krill equivalent of church... and it turns out that Krill worship services are straight out of a horror movie. Really and truly. Turns out that gruesome severed human head, which is held aloft and then stabbed into a bloody pulp as part of the ceremony—is modeled on the visage of real-life special effects make-up legend Tom Savini:
As mentioned above, much of “Firestorm” takes place in a simulation that Alara doesn’t realize at the time is a simulation. All she knows is that freaky, terrifying, dire stuff keeps happening... and it all begins with the sudden, silent appearance of a clown so sinister it would give Pennywise nightmares. And it doesn’t just stand there—it sprints directly at her, tries to fight her, then vanishes! Sudden, unexpected, attacking, disappearing clown? In an episode that also features a giant, man-eating tarantula and an evil version of Isaac with glowing red eyes, the clown wins hands down.
In “Pria”—an otherwise so-so episode focused around guest star Charlize Theron, who plays a devious, distractingly glamorous time traveler—the crew discovers that the humor-challenged Isaac has no idea what a practical joke is. Naturally, Gordon decides to enlighten him by making him the butt of one. It’s pretty innocent, all things considered: Gordon attaches Mr. Potato Head pieces to Isaac’s robotic face. He looks silly, everyone has a laugh, and there’s no harm done... until Isaac gets back at Gordon by playing his own joke, resulting in what’s simultaneously The Orville’s most cringe-inducing and gut-busting moment ever. You can see it in the photo above. Fortunately, Gordon eventually gets his leg back thanks to the wonders of 25t- century medicine—and he’s even big enough to give Isaac props for pulling off “the best damn practical joke I’ve ever seen in my life.” It’s a gag. Literally, you will gag.
The Orville airs Thursday nights on Fox.