After a very long wait since the end of season one, The Orville finally returned. The sci-fi dramedy that garnered a loyal following from its first season that proved nearly all critics wrong. TV critics originally panned the show for being too much like Star Trek, too much of a spoof and a bad remake of Galaxy Quest. Any and all who have spoken ill of the series were told by fans that their opposition to this fresh sci-fi dramedy was unwelcome. The show’s fans were embracing of the format, tone and ever-changing genre. Season two is better than the first. Further, the episodic formatting creates a refreshing unpredictability missing from broadcast TV.
A Classic Mold
With so many shows trying to emulate the success of the binge-able, all-too-consumable shows of streaming services, broadcast networks have needed to find a new way to refresh their standard formats. Following the footsteps of Star Trek, classic episodic TV structure is utilized by the show to allow space travel and exploration not to be bogged down by too many continuing story lines. Within this structure, the episodes main conflict will be solved by the end of the episode. There may be a related B and C story line that will also resolve by the end.
The Orville promises that you do not need to see any other episode to watch. Each episode stands alone, although they are not entirely unrelated. Thusly, we get the best of both. The character relationships that continue to evolve and change, yet you still get a complete story every episode. So, don’t feel that if you haven’t watched it you’re too late.
The reason the show is so refreshing to watch is because it does not follow the same format between episodes. This isn’t a cop drama, “whodunit”. This isn’t a lawyer drama, waiting to see who walks and who goes to jail. This is life on a ship that can go anywhere, see anything, and run into any problem. A typical episode will resolve the drama by the end, but this not every episode is life and death, not every episode needs a big bad, not every episode forces the crew to save someone in peril. Instead, the series delves into character and pushes narratives that speak to the human (and alien) condition. The sci-fi nature of the series is really a backdrop.
The show would suffer from a forced season-long conflict. Because of episodic structure they don’t have to push every episode to end in a cliffhanger to keep viewers engaged, quite the opposite. Binge-able shows need you to keep pushing play until there is nothing left. Shows like The Flash and Arrow are episodic drama, although they do create an annual super-villain to face along with weekly conflicts to move towards solving this year’s battle. The Orville would paint itself into a corner to try to complete only one, non-character motivated story. Moreover, the show shows an optimistic vision of the future that is hard to achieve when a villain is around every corner.
The series’ embracing of classic TV forms allows The Orville find its pace and structure, and its originality still takes unexpected turns.
No Two Episodes are Alike
This season’s episodes continue to include small references to changing social conversations. This year already touched on parenting, life after divorce, a porn addiction, non-supportive families, anti-vaxers, and relating to those who fight you. The episodic story structure allows each character to face issues and come to the center of an episode. Nearly all lead characters will have their time, allowing the social, cultural or political issues dealt with to pertain to them. This avoids the show looking to political or focusing too much on real current events because the issues discussed are more universal and contextualized. Further, because of an avoidance of a strict story structure, no two episodes follow the same path.
Throughout its run, the show makes a point of using the daily lives of the characters as main story material, not a B or C story line. The first episode this year focused on Bortus and his annual Ja’loja ceremony, creating an episode about accepting another’s culture and tapped into many love stories as everyone needed a date to the after party. The premiere was a good reentry to the series, but works more like a starter pack to the world of The Orville.
Primal Urges ★★★☆☆
Episode two, “Primal Urges”, also focused on Bortus. He finds himself getting addicted to simulator porn until an illegally obtained experience puts a virus into the ships computer. The true sci-fi element in this episode is when Bortus is tasked with helping survivors outrun the destruction of their planet being absorbed by their sun. The story pulls Bortus to face a unwinnable situation as only half the population can come to the Orville and the rest will die. The sacrifices made by the survivors puts his family life in perspective. This episode showcases the series ability to use sci-fi as a backdrop to the stronger character story. Although the set-up is a little silly, the tone change to drama is seamless.
Continuing the focus on the ship’s top brass, we see fan-favorite Alara take her leave and return to her home planet. Within this story there is not a loud epic space battle, but a home invasion. Even on Xelayah, there are bad people. After learning her body is being injured through the continued pull of earth-level gravity she must return home to regain her strength. This episode ultimately saw this character off the show with a grand goodbye. A strong musical score pushes through as all bridge crew members hug her as she leaves the Orville. Rumor may follow as to why this character exited the series, but to have a fundamental dynamic change in the second season is a risky move. But, The Orville takes it in stride and allows the character to part with the crew and audience.
Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes ★★★★★
The best episode of the season so far is episode 4, “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes,” referencing the King and I. Captain Mercer continues his romantic relationship with Lieutenant, Janel Tylor. Everything seems to be going well until the two take a weekend getaway and are abducted by the Krill. The recurring bad guys of the series, we are reintroduced to a Krill character from last season Ed almost befriended, Teleya. Turns out Teleya posed as Janel to gain Ed’s trust just to break it and kill him. The nature of the Union versus Krill conflict is the focus of the episode. Again The Orville changes tone from romantic to dramatic action.
Later, Teleya and Ed have a sincere conversation between enemies which is not fraught with arguments, but a genuine connection. This dose of Krill changes the audience’s relationship with them as now their lives and missions are more understood. This show doesn’t even leave their “big bads” away from character development.
Another perk for this episode was the expert use of Billy Joel. The common Billy Joel sentiment of love, but appreciation for the complexities of life speak volumes in this episode.
Bigger and Better
The Orville may dwell in familiar territory, but a continual reinvention allows the series to breathe new life to the old ways of TV. The episodes this season are longer by 7-8 minutes than last year. Also, this season has limited commercial interruptions. This allows for more story time and we may see the writers further pushing into this ever-expanding universe.
Further, The post-production budget looks to all end up on screen. The episode on Xelayah proves the investment, showcasing a very beautiful planet. The scale and quality allows the planet to feel real with a diverse landscape. This episode alone could win a few VFX awards.
The adventure continues for fourteen episodes this season airing Thursdays at 9 on Fox.
What are you’re thoughts on The Orville this season? Share in the comments.