After week off without a new episode (we were given a re-run of the pilot episode last week), ‘The Orville’ returns with a pretty cool “cold open” to the episode that may have left many viewers wondering if they were actually watching the right show!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘The Orville’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: It looks like a fairly normal day on Earth, early 21st Century – but the more you watch, the more you start to see subtle differences, most prominently, the heavy focus on what appears to be “social voting” via a morning news/talk show. Two men appear to be low-key on trial for something they did wrong – and you can tell by the live tally of up-votes and down-votes on screen, they are not doing well. As the men are brought to a chamber in jail, one man tries to escape and is killed as the down-votes hit 10 million – and the other man gets his head hooked up to a machine and the switch thrown…
When the action switches to the Orville after the opening credits, things start to become a little more clear. The two men are undercover Planetary Union agents who are doing undercover research on this pre-“First Contact” planet, a world where the justice system has a significant social-media slant to it. Criminals are considered guilty of crimes if enough people down-vote them to the point where police arrest them, and at 10 million down-votes, their behavior and personalities are “corrected” via lobotomy. The away team sent to search for the missing PU scientists doesn’t realize this, however, until after LaMarr jokingly dry-humps a statue that turns out to be quite revered in this culture, and the vote-badge he illegally purchased upon arrival (in order, ironically enough, to avoid trouble with the law for not having one) starts to accumulate a massive amount of down-votes after video of him goes viral.
While Kelly goes with LaMarr through the “legal system” of appearing on talk shows in an attempt to get the public to change their minds about him, Alara and Dr. Finn (Medicine Woman) befriend a local named Lysella – and by “befriend,” I mean “accidentally reveal that they are aliens.” Mercer, who has been denied by the Admiralty the ability to extract LaMarr, sees an opportunity, and brings Lysella on-board the Orville to try and get a local’s perspective in an attempt to save his crewman. She recommends making him look sympathetic via typical 21st-Century social media means: pictures of him as a chubby child, mentions of him helping his grandmother, even a video of him as a veteran being reunited with his pet dog. Miraculously, it works, and public opinion is swayed just enough to save LaMarr from his impending lobotomy.
- Viewers who are connoisseurs of televised sci-fi of the world will no doubt draw immediate parallels from this episode directly to the premiere episode of the third season of British sci-fi/horror anthology series ‘Black Mirror.’ that episode, titled “Nosedive,” featured a society that votes on citizens via their daily interactions with one another, and saw a woman attempt to improve her failing “public approval” score and failing miserably to do so. The episode guest-starred Bryce Dallas Howard and Alice Eve, and the similarities are striking, but this may simply be a case of “same idea, same time,” as the ‘Black Mirror’ episode didn’t premiere until October 2016, with production on ‘The Orville’ beginning around the same time (meaning, all the episodes had already been written and worked on ahead of this time). MacFarlane, for his part, said during a live-Tweet session during this episode that he wrote this story before the ‘Black Mirror’ episode came out, after reading the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson.
- A solid guest-starring role tonight by Giorgia Whigham, whom avid TV viewers might recognize from multi-episode arcs in MTV’s ‘Scream: The Series’ and Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why.’ She’s not exactly on the level of Liam Neeson or Charlize Theron, obviously, but we can’t expect big Hollywood A-Listers every week… or can we?
- Following the pattern of the last few episodes, the comedy has become much more “in sync” with the overall vibe of the show, instead of feeling forced as it did in the first few entries of the season. It’s good low-key laughs this week, especially with Bortas providing some surprising comic relief in his one-liners about being able to sing and other talents.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: One particular piece of the episode, during outer-space-virgin Lysella’s approach flight to the Orville, was masterfully created from a visual standpoint, and simply sang to me of ‘Star Trek’ and other sci-fi shows in their prime. For all the outer focus on MacFarlane and his comedy, ‘The Orville’ is doing an excellent job of maintaining a high-quality genre aesthetic, and this is something I sincerely hope the show continues to focus on as it moves through the remainder of this season and beyond.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Seth MacFarlane as Ed Mercer
Adrianne Palicki as Kelly Grayson
Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn
Scott Grimes as Gordon Malloy
Peter Macon as Lt. Commander Bortus
Halston Sage as Alara Kitan
J. Lee as John LaMarr
Mark Jackson as Isaac
‘The Orville’ features new episodes Thursday nights on Fox.