Well, if most of the critics seemed a bit confused about the tone of ‘The Orville’ – most seemed to dismiss the show entirely, but not ScienceFiction.com and I, as we enjoyed the first episode – the viewership told a different story. The first episode of Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek-ish homage/parody brought in over 8.5 million viewers, making it a strong entrant into the early part of the new-show Fall TV season. The second episode, “Command Performance,” starts to bring audiences a larger sample size of the show – so, how did entry #2 go? Read on to find out!
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: The episode opens with a typical modern-day office-environment vibe (more on this in the “Observations” below), as Lieutenant Commander Bortas comes to Captain Mercer’s office to request a small leave of absence – 21 days, to be precise, so that the Moclan might appropriately next the egg that he just laid. Remember, Moclans are a single-gendered species, but they apparently are no stranger to romantic coupling, as Bortas has a “mate” of sorts, Klyden, who lives on the Orville as well. After a few tough-to-land jokes, Mercer grants the time off.
Soon we’re into the “meat” of the episode – a ship puts out a distress call, and amazingly, it’s carrying Mercer’s parents (played with fairly positive parental aplomb by Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor). After Ed and his XO/ex-wife Kelly Grayson agree to take a shuttle to the ship to assist with the distress call/catch up with Ed’s parents, they discover that the ship is a holographic fake – a trap, one that zaps Ed and Kelly away to parts unknown.
Left in charge as the Acting Captain, Lt. Alara Kitan is unprepared for command and the pressure that big decisions brings with it. She makes the headstrong mistake of ordering the alien craft to be brought on board – it explodes just outside the shuttle bay, severely damaging the ship (man, that Orville has sure taken a beating in its first few episodes, yeah?). After seeking some advice from Dr. Finn (Medicine Woman – sorry, I couldn’t help myself), Alara decides to go against the orders coming from Earth, and instead goes after Ed and Kelly, who are discovered to be in a zoo on the Kaylon homeworld, a race that the Planetary Union wants to steer clear of. A gambit is employed, Ed and Kelly are rescued, and the day is fortuitously saved.
- ‘The Orville’ continues to attempt to find its identity, and I think this episode helped. We got some pretty intelligent writing and intriguing plots of both the main and sub- varieties. The comedy continues to feel a bit forced a times, and this is on part with much of MacFarlane’s work – usually there are big laughs to be had, but for every well-landed punchline there are others that go over less-than-spectacularly.
- Speaking of “forced:” yes, the interaction between Mercer and his elderly parents feels a bit heavy-handed, but I think that’s the intentional feel that MacFarlane and the show’s creative team were going for. After all, when’s the last time you had a perfectly-timed and well-scripted interaction with your aging parents, hmm?
- As mentioned above, the show is definitely working to strike a “Star Trek meets a 21st-Century office” type of vibe. This is most evident in two major places in this episode: helmsmen John LaMarr and Gordon Malloy joke about Alara being in charge, referring to her as “Dora the Explorer” – an apt comparison, but seemingly a bit out of place (when was the last time you chatted up your work neighbor with a pop-culture reference to a piece of entertainment that is 400-some years old?). The second instance is when Alara announces to the crew that she will be disobeying orders in order to continue to search for Ed and Kelly – most United Federation/military type of vessels would see the crew have serious issues with this breaking of the chain of command, but on the Orville, all the crew members cheer wildly, almost as if they see the Planetary Union Admiralty as “upper management” whom they are perfectly happy to stick it to.
- An interesting note – this episode is labeled with a “production code” of 1LAB03, meaning it was the third episode shot, and may have at one time been intended as the third episode to air. The next episode, “About a Girl,” has the code 1LAB04 – two weeks from now is when 1LAB02 (“If the Stars Should Appear”) will air, making it the fifth episode to see the airwaves.
- Eagle-eyed Star Trek fans: did you catch who directed this episode? None other than Robert Duncan McNeill, he of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ fame for his portrayal of Lieutenant Tom Paris. For next week’s episode, long-time Trek creative mind Brannon Braga is listed as the directorial credit.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: The focus on the supporting characters, I believe, will be what makes or breaks the show moving forward. I get an inkling that MacFarlane recognizes this fact as well; not only is he a self-professed longtime Star Trek/sci-fi nerd himself, but the show’s writing seems to be heading in this direction, especially with the closing moments of this episode, where we discover that Bortas’ newly-hatched child may not be the epitome of the Moclan status quo…
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’ moves to Thursday nights starting this week on Fox.