“The Orville: New Horizons” deserves a renewal…


Charting a Course.

Writer/producer/star Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville,” which debuted on the Fox TV network in September of 2017, had a longer than expected hiatus between its second and third seasons, due to the chaos caused by the global COVID pandemic. When the series finally returned in June of 2022, it left Fox for exclusive streaming on Hulu.com, where it was rebranded “The Orville: New Horizons.” The ten episodes of that third season ran longer than the 45 minute episodes of seasons 1 & 2, and were given clearly healthier budgets, as well. They were more like mini “Orville” movies than episodes, wrapping up earlier threads, while leaving plenty of open doors for a future return. The full series (to date) is now available on both Hulu and Disney+ streaming services, where it’s hoped that more hits might lead to a renewal. And if ever a series deserved another chance, it’s “The Orville.”

Note: Going forward, I’m using the shorter title of “The Orville” for brevity.

The Orville engages its faster-than-light quantum drive… for the last time?

Making no apologies for its obvious similarities to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and other such utopian 1990s sci-fi shows, “The Orville” is a relaxed version of Star Trek, with relatable characters speaking in 21st century vernacular, unlike the more buttoned-up bunch serving in Trek’s Starfleet. When the series began, the starship Orville wasn’t exactly the pride of its Planetary Union fleet. Orville is a mid-class vessel commanded by the fallible Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane), who’s still smarting over a divorce from his ex-wife and current First Officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki). The Orville‘s crew are a more eccentric lot, though they still manage heroic deeds while tackling the same kinds of ethical/social quandaries seen in the best of Star Trek.

When the series began, Fox wanted more comedy injected into the show, given Seth MacFarlane’s successes with “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” After a few episodes, that irritatingly shoehorned-in humor of the early first season gave way to more organic and character-driven laughs. The show was finding its voice.

Last Time on “The Orville”…

When the show returned for its limited, yet handsomely-produced third season in 2022, the characters had all undergone tremendous growth. The Moclan Second Officer Bortus (Peter Macon) grew to become a loving father in defense of his child, Topa (Imani Pullum). Topa’s mandated sex-change surgery after birth was reversed; allowing her to live her life as a rare, openly Moclan female (Moclans pride themselves on being a male-only culture). This sci-fi take on the relevant issue of gender affirmation was one of the many ways the show had outgrown its origins as a lightweight Star Trek parody (à la 1999’s “Galaxy Quest”).

In the third season’s “A Tale of Two Topas,” a grave injustice done to Bortus’ child Topa (Imani Pullum) was reversed.

Near the end of the final season, we saw Topa kidnapped by Moclans who torture her for information on an all-female colony of Moclans who ran an Underground Railroad to their world. Topa is later freed by her father Bortus, and is also reconciled with her more ‘traditional’ Moclan parent, Klyden (Chad Coleman). However, as a result of the kidnapping and torture, the planet Moclus is expelled from the Planetary Union, right during a critical (and devastating) war with the cybernetic Kaylons, who have more in common (phonetically and otherwise) with the Cylons of “Battlestar Galactica” than Star Trek’s Borg.

Strange Bedfellows.
Krill ruler Teleya (Michaela McManus) and a Moclan leader decide they have a mutual enemy in the Planetary Union.

The Moclan expulsion from the Union leads them into an alliance with one of the Union’s most formidable enemies; the Krill. The Krill are a pale, photosensitive race of religious fundamentalists who see all other life forms as soulless infidels (sound familiar?). Complicating matters, the Krill’s radical new leader Teleya (Michaela McManus), is a former lover of Captain Mercer’s. Teleya became pregnant with Ed’s child while under deep cover as a human officer aboard Orville (“Nothing Left On Earth Excepting Fishes”). The toxically masculine culture of Moclus has only aligned itself with the female-led Krill for their mutual defense against the Kaylon threat and the Planetary Union.

Isaac (right) aided his fellow Kaylons when they hijacked the Orville (S2.9: “Identity Part 2”), but their murderous indifference to Dr. Finn’s children, whom Isaac had befriended, prompted his betrayal..

This shaky new alliance is further incentivized when they learn the Planetary Union has developed a devastating new weapon against the Kaylon, which obliterates entire Kaylon fleets with a single pulse, leaving biological life forms completely unharmed. Both the Krill/Moclan alliance and reactionary Union factions want to use the weapon to obliterate the Kaylon race (“Domino”) , but Ed sees an opportunity to sue for peace. The stolen weapon is eventually destroyed by its genius co-creator, Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters), at the cost of her life. Burke’s sacrifice demonstrates human goodwill to the Kaylons. Charly’s sacrifice lays the foundation for an armistice.

Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) officiates at the wedding of Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) and Isaac (Mark Jackson), who is ‘dressed’ in a holographic human form for the occasion (Jackson out of costume).

With the Kaylon threat over (they’re given a provisional seat on the Union Council), life begins to return to something resembling normal aboard the lovably abnormal starship. The final epsidoe of the series (“Future Unknown”) is a character-driven story refreshingly free from war or other crises. The only subplot involves a young humanoid woman, Lysella (Giorgia Whigham), who is seeking asylum from her world, which is all-too similar to our 21st century Earth (“Majority Rule”). In this rare, non-plot driven story, a few personal matters are settled. The Orville’s chief medical officer, Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Jerald Johnson) ties the knot with the ship’s resident Kaylon science officer, Isaac (Mark Jackson) in an ‘outdoor’ wedding in the ship’s holographic simulator room. Old friends come to visit, including former Security Chief Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), who left the ship a couple of years earlier (“Home”).

Gordon (Scott Grimes) serenades his shipmates and wedding guests with the fitting James Taylor ballad, “Secret O’ Life.” 

The 25th century universe of “The Orville” ended in a nice-enough place; Topa is safe with her two loving Moclan parents, Ed and Kelly seem on the verge of rekindling their romance, peace is made with the Kaylons, and Isaac and Claire have been married. However, there is still the Moclan/Krill alliance to contend with, as well as Ed’s half-Krill daughter, whom he may never see again. Not to mention exploring the rest of the galaxy, and tackling today’s issues with the show’s trademark wit and frankness. There’s still plenty of universe left for the Orville to explore…

“The Orville” vs. “Star Trek.”

In three short seasons, “The Orville” universe has become a nicely established place, with quite a few differences from its “Star Trek” cousins. Yes,“The Orville” and “Star Trek” are very similar, but their differences are intriguing. The universe of “The Orville” doesn’t have transporters, for example, making fast getaways a bit more tricky. Planetary Union shuttles are also able to freely cloak themselves (unlike the banned cloaking tech of Trek’s Starfleet); this comes in handy during delicate ‘first contact’ missions with less-developed races. I also appreciate that the Orville wasn’t the Planetary Union’s pride-and-joy flagship. Orville‘s reputation is earned over the course of three seasons, which is in-keeping with the show’s guiding principle of reputation replacing money as the new currency.

Talla (Jessica Szohr), Bortus (Peter Macon), Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) and Ed (Seth MacFarlane) on the bright, clean Orville bridge.

Compared to more recent incarnations of Star Trek, “The Orville” is also a very attractive universe. “The Orville”‘s production design and cinematography harken back to the uncluttered, brightly-lit aesthetics of 1980s/1990s sci-fi TV. The show also uses less handheld cameras, smoke-lighting, and other murky tropes that have since become the standard in modern sci-fi storytelling. This gives “The Orville” a refreshingly retro look that makes uniforms, sets, and even spaceships appear cleaner and crisper. Visually, the show really pops. My aging eyesight would probably give out altogether if I found myself in the darkened, smoke-filled corridors of most modern Star Treks…

Blast from the Past.
The recent Star Trek prequel series, “Strange New Worlds,” has embraced the cleaner, crisper visual aesthetic of both “The Orville” and its own predecessors.

Note: To clarify: I don’t dislike modern Star Trek. However, I find its repeated use of handheld cameras, heavy smoke, and inadequate lighting to be optically taxing at times, that’s all—especially for my rapidly aging peepers. That said, I also find it gratifying and encouraging that the most recent Star Trek prequel series, “Strange New Worlds,” has returned to that brighter, crisper aesthetic as well.

All-Too Human.

Another way that “The Orville” differs from Star Trek is with its more relatable characters, who react with more of the flaws, prejudices and quirks of its 21st century audience, rather than their nobler, regulation-quoting Starfleet counterparts. The Orville crew use bad language, and make slews of 20th-21st century pop culture references (sometimes incongruously so). They also indulge in all-night clubbing and getting hungover every now and then…

Navigator Charly Burke (Anne Winters) confronts science office Isaac (Mark Jackson), the embodiment of everything she loathes in season 3’s “From Unknown Graves.”

Attending a panel for the show during a 2020 convention in Los Angeles, I remember an ex-military audience member who said that the petty, fallible, all-too human Ed Mercer is the most realistic military officer he’d ever seen in a sci-fi series. That observation brings me to the best arguments for renewing “The Orville”; its lovable characters

Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane)

Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) isn’t exactly James T. Kirk, or Jean-Luc Picard, and that is by design. Ed’s a relatably-flawed, sometimes petty everyman, who’s still reeling from a divorce from his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson, who becomes his first officer aboard his new command; the starship Orville (named after the other Wright brother…). Still feeling guilt over her prior infidelity, Kelly quietly pitches Ed to the admiralty for the job. Settling into their newfound roles, the former husband and wife gain a whole new appreciation for each other as captain and commander. Their relationship is filled with the kind of intimacy, comfort, and even jealousies we don’t typically see in Star Trek’s command ranks.

Union Starship Captain Ed Mercer.
Series co-creator, writer, producer, occasional director and star Seth MacFarlane is the series literal and fictional captain.

Still bearing a torch for Kelly, we see the too-trusting Ed enter into a serious relationship with the ship’s new navigator, Lt. Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus). Lt. Tyler is later revealed to be Teleya, an enemy Krill agent under deep cover, who is avenging the deaths of her crew at Ed’s hands during an earlier mission when Ed lethally sabotaged her ship (“Nothing Left On Earth Excepting Fishes”). Things get more complicated when it’s revealed that Ed has a half-human daughter with Teleya named Anaya (Charlie Townsend), whom he may never see again (“Gently Falling Rain”). Ed and his crew have also become heroes after saving Earth from a deadly Kaylon invasion (“Identity Part 2” ) As the series progresses, we see Ed growing as a leader, learning to better trust his judgment and instincts. Much of that confidence quietly comes from Kelly, who is always in Ed’s corner. By the end of the series, we see a hint that Ed and Kelly might be getting back together, when they’re holding hands during Isaac and Claire’s wedding reception.

My own pic of Seth McFarlane, taken at Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena; commemorating the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. “The Orville” was still 5 years away…

Note: Casting one’s self as the lead in one’s own TV series might seem like vanity, but in “The Orville,” it ultimately proved to be a smart move. As a teenager who used to videotape his own Star Trek adventures, few actors could approach the role with the same unabashed enthusiasm of Seth MacFarlane. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of MacFarlane’s comedies, but I remember when he and producer Anne Druyan dropped in unexpectedly at a Planetary Society event I attended in 2012. Together, they announced production on a new version of TV’s “COSMOS,” continuing the late Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS show with updated information and new stories. MacFarlane’s “COSMOS” revival, with Neil deGrasse Tyson hosting, was brilliant.

Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki)

Following the divorce from her husband Ed, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) still feels guilty over a one-night stand she had with Darulio (Rob Lowe), a blue-skinned alien who seduced her with his pheromones while he was in heat (Darulio later seduces Ed the same way). Seeing Ed falling into deeper despair from their divorce, Kelly advocates for his command of the starship Orville, to which she is assigned as his first officer. As Kelly and Ed grow into their new roles with each other, she also settles into a relationship with the Orville‘s schoolteacher Cassius (Chris Johnson), which doesn’t last, due to conflicting life-goals, as well as her lingering feelings for Ed (“Deflectors”).

Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki)

Like Ed, Kelly isn’t always a model officer herself; she sometimes drinks too much, and isn’t above making the occasional blunder, like helping an injured young girl on an alien planet in full view of its primitive inhabitants. This ‘innocent’ act leads to an entire religion based on worship of “the Kelly,” which leads to centuries of sacrifices and bloody jihads fought in her name (“Mad Idolatry”). Kelly’s personal life also falls under embarrassing scrutiny when her younger self is accidentally transported aboard the ship using its Aranov time-travel device (“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”). The younger Kelly is sent back to her own time, but a memory erasure doesn’t take, allowing her to change fate by not accepting a second date from Ed, her future ex-husband (“The Road Not Taken”); this innocent misstep later somehow leads to the Kaylons conquering most of the known galaxy. History is later repaired, of course. From being worshipped as a god to innocently causing galactic genocide, Kelly has experienced a very colorful career during her three years on the Orville.

Kelly and Ed at Claire and Isaac’s wedding: would a followup series see them reunite…?

Note: Actress Adrianne Palicki is no stranger to sci-fi fantasy roles, either. Palicki was cast in an unsold 2011 TV pilot of “Wonder Woman,” as well as the unsold pilot of “The Robinsons” (a 2002 John Woo-directed “Lost in Space” reboot). She also appeared in “Agents of SHIELD” and in the more down-to-earth TV adaptation of “Friday Night Lights” (2006-2011). During the course of “The Orville,” she married costar Scott Grimes (“Gordon”) in 2019, only to divorce a year later. Palicki brings many shadings to the role of Kelly, as we see the character alternate between advisor, advocate, confidante, and kick-ass military leader (“Sanctuary”). Palicki’s Kelly Grayson is indispensable to the show’s family.

Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon)

Hailing from the all-male culture of the brutal planet Moclus, Commander Bortus (Peter Macon) lives on the starship Orville with his mate, Klyden (Chad Coleman), and their child, Topa, who is born–er, hatched at the end of the show’s second episode. Much like Star Trek TNG’s Klingon security chief Worf, Bortus is severe, brutal, and literal-minded, like most Moclans. However, during the course of the series, we see the Planetary Union’s more progressive ideologies slowly rubbing off on him.

Second officer Bortus (Peter Macon) at his station during a tense moment.

When Topa is discovered to be female, it’s assumed that Bortus and Klyden will take her to Moclus where she can be ‘corrected‘ to male, since being born female is considered a ‘birth defect’ in Moclan society (“About a Girl”). However, Bortus is inspired by the story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and realizes that Topa’s condition isn’t a defect, but a source of uniqueness. This leads to a clash between Bortus and Klyden, with Kelly chosen to advocate for baby Topa at a Moclan hearing. Sadly, the Moclans rules in Klyden’s favor, and Topa is ‘corrected’ to male. This injustice leads to much trouble in Bortus’s marriage, and even a holographic porn addiction which he struggles to overcome (“Primal Urges”). Over the course of the series, Topa (Imani Pullum) experiences her own awakening as a female, and Bortus secretly arranges for Isaac to perform a gender affirmation surgery (“A Tale of Two Topas”). After the surgery, proud parent Bortus lovingly tells his newly-affirmed daughter, “You are perfect.” Topa’s later kidnapping and torture by the Moclan government leads to the planet’s expulsion from the Planetary Union (“Midnight Blue”). A defecting Klyden eventually rejoins his family, as he comes to realize just how much he loves his daughter as well. Bortus’s life aboard the Orville is largely about his family, and despite his earlier, draconian attitudes, he soon settles into the role of a proud and loving father.

Taking the piss out of things.
Moclan family Topa (Blesson Yates), Klyden (Chad Coleman) and Bortus celebrate Bortus’s annual urination, in S2.1’s “Ja’loja.”

Note: Actor Peter Macon brings a strong undercurrent of paternal warmth to the otherwise comically brutal role of Bortus. And while his relationship with mate Klyden was initially played for laughs, it quickly became like many other family stories; loving, angry, complicated and powerful. The show still manages to get many laughs from Bortus’s awkwardness with human customs and language (“We’re now entering the glory hole!”), but the character’s relationship with his family is taken very seriously, as it represents the wide varieties of parenting (some agreeable, some intolerable) found right here on Spaceship Earth.

Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald)

There is another Union officer aboard the Orville who also has a family; the ship’s medical doctor and psychiatrist, Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald). Claire is a single mother to two boys, Ty (Kai Wener) and his older teenage brother, Marcus (BJ Tanner). Claire’s two boys can be a handful; Marcus is a slightly rebellious teenager, while young Ty is a sensitive innocent. It is never fully explained, nor is it necessary to understand exactly why Claire chose to be a single mother. She simply wanted kids, and that’s all there was to it.

Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) is the chief medical officer aboard the Orville, and she’s also the ship’s psychiatrist.

After an emergency crash landing in a shuttle on an unknown planet with her sons and Isaac, Claire was separated from the others, forcing Isaac to look after Marcus and Ty (“Into the Fold”). To Claire’s surprise, her sons became very fond the Kaylon android… and she has, too. Later, that spark became the foundation for a relationship (“A Happy Refrain”), as Claire and Isaac experimented with dating. While the android couldn’t reciprocate Claire’s emotional investment, he did his best to become an attentive lover; even assuming a holographic human form on their dates. When the Kaylons went to war with the Planetary Union, Claire was horrified to see Isaac siding with his people, as they initiated a crusade to eliminate all biological life forms who pose a threat to Kaylon order (“Identity Part 2”). Isaac eventually turned on his fellow Kaylons, but the trauma from the event caused Marcus to have nightmares (“Electric Sheep”). It took Claire (and Marcus) a while to fully forgive Isaac, but eventually they resumed their relationship, culminating in a lavish wedding at the end of the series (“Future Unknown”).

Dr. Finn, Medicine Woman.
Claire Finn and her two sons, Ty (Kai Wener) and Marcus (BJ Tanner).

Note: Actress Penny Johnson Jerald is well known to longtime Star Trek fans for her role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Kasidy Yates, the civilian freighter captain who becomes romantically involved with Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks). The two eventually get married in that show’s final season. Some fans have compared Claire’s relationship with Isaac to that of the android Data and Enterprise crew member Jenna D’Sora in Star Trek: The Next Generation (S4.25, “In Theory”). Unlike Data and Jenna, however, Claire and Isaac saw their relationship through to the end. It’s no secret that many stories of “The Orville” are very similar to past episodes of Star Trek, but they play out very differently. “The Orville” often takes those familiar scenarios into bolder, very unexpected directions. Claire and Isaac’s relationship is one of the ways that “The Orville” takes familiar Trek tropes and comes at them from exciting, refreshingly new perspectives..

Isaac (Mark Jackson)

Claire’s story leads us to the Orville‘s cybernetic science officer and resident Kaylon observer, Isaac (Mark Jackson). Introduced in the pilot as an observer on behalf of his mysterious android race, Isaac eventually becomes part of the ship’s family, even if the crew’s feelings for him can’t be reciprocated by his very nature. At first, Isaac’s experiences with the crew define him. Through the ship’s wisecracking helmsman, Gordon Malloy, Isaac is taught practical jokes (it doesn’t end well). Through the ship’s chief engineer John LaMarr, Isaac finds a staunch ally. Through the ship’s doctor, Claire Finn, the android unexpectedly finds love.

Isaac (Mark Jackson) learns about humanity through his observations and interactions with the Orville crew.

For the first season and half of the second, Isaac’s experiences with the crew are very similar to those of Star Trek’s resident android, Data. However, in the middle of the second season, we learn that Isaac’s android race, the Kaylons, overthrew their cruel biological makers in a bloody rebellion; leaving massive piles of bones in catacombs deep beneath their planet (“Identity, part 1″). This discovery reveals the true intentions of Isaac’s people—they’ve been probing humans and other biological life forms for weaknesses, in order to exterminate them. War explodes between the Planetary Union and the Kaylons. The Kaylon threat leads to unlikely alliances being formed in order to defeat them. Isaac eventually turns on his fellow Kaylons, but his choice costs him his life (though he’s later restored by the Orville’s engineering team). In season 3, Isaac experiences prejudice from several in the Orville‘s crew, including Marcus and new navigator Charly Burke, prompting Isaac to deactivate himself in an android suicide attempt. Only through John LaMarr’s genius is Isaac restored once again (“Electric Sheep”). Following his deactivation attempt, Claire and Isaac try to resume their stalled relationship.

Actor Mark Jackson is allowed to appear as Isaac’s holographic human self, during his brief jubilant rush of love for Claire.

One of Isaac’s—and actor Mark Jackson’s—greatest moments in the entire series occurs when the Orville crew discover a Kaylon named Timmus (Christopher Larkin) peacefully cohabitating with an alien scientist (“From Unknown Graves”). The scientist has reactivated latent Kaylon circuitry in Timmus that allows him to experience emotions, including regret, sorrow, gratitude and friendship. Similar circuitry is activated in Isaac, which allows him (in his holographic human guise) to experience a heartwarming admission of love for Claire. Sadly, the circuitry soon malfunctions, reverting Isaac to his unemotional state; unable to remember even the sensation of emotion. Claire is devastated, but chooses to keep Isaac as he is, rather than erasing his memory in order to make the emotions permanent.

Note: Mark Jackson has had several episodes where he’s been allowed to appear as himself (via holographic means), but none have been more poignant than his admission of love for Claire in “From Unknown Graves,” which also tells the story of the Kaylon revolt against their cruel oppressors. I guarantee that actor Mark Jackson will break your heart in this episode.

Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes)

Ship’s helmsman and resident wise-ass Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) was a character that I wasn’t terribly fond of, at first. In the early days of the show, Gordon was the ‘joke guy’; often saddled with weak one-liners filled with anachronistic references from the 21st century. However, actor Scott Grimes’ charm soon kicked in, and the character began to grow on me. Later, we got to hear Gordon serenade the crew with some great ballads, and we watched him enter into a heartbreaking holographic romance with a woman named Laura Huggins (Leighton Meester), who was conjured from the memory card of an antique smartphone, found in a 21st century New Jersey time capsule (“Lasting Impressions”).

Gordon is back at the helm, unable to remember his future that never happened, in “Twice in a Lifetime.”

It’s Gordon’s unusually strong connection to our time that makes him a natural audience surrogate. He’s the guy who sees piloting the Orville as both a privilege and as another long day at work to be avoided whenever possible—like many of us. Gordon’s infatuation with the 21st century is put to the test in his best episode (“Twice in a Lifetime”) when he attempts to destroy the dangerous Aranov time displacement device during a firefight with the Kaylon. Gordon fires his plasma pistol into it just as it floods him with temporal displacement energy, hurling him 400 years into the past—a moment in time he just happened to be thinking in that exact moment. A stranded Gordon spends months on his own, forced to eat animals he’d killed just to stay alive. Soon, loneliness and desperation force him to seek out the company of a woman he’d only ‘met’ via her smartphone; Laura Huggins. With hope of rescue fading, Gordon eventually settles into a 21st century life. Establishing himself as a private charter pilot, he marries Laura, and they move to California, where they make a home—and family—for themselves.

Gordon doesn’t want to go “back to the future” after settling down with the love of his life, Laura Huggins (Leighton Meester).

The Orville eventually tracks Gordon to the 21st century, but they arrive ten years late. Gordon is now a contented family man who doesn’t want to return to the 25th century with Ed and Kelly, after they show up to retrieve him. With Ed unwilling to simply abduct Gordon in front of his family, the decision is made to attempt another risky jump back in time. Now they can retrieve Gordon only a few months after his arrival in 2015. Gordon is rescued, and his ‘family’ is erased from history. Back in the 25th century, Ed and Kelly tell Gordon the truth. Unable to remember his lost family (who never existed), Gordon settles back into his native time…

Note: “Twice in a Lifetime” is easily Scott Grimes best work in the entire series. Grimes began work as a child actor, and later collaborated with future “Orville” costar Seth MacFarlane as the voice of ‘Steve Smith’ in McFarlane’s animated sitcom “American Dad.” Grimes was also briefly married to costar Adrianne Palicki, from 2019-2020.

Chief Engineer Commander John LaMarr (J Lee)

The character of Lt. John LaMarr (J Lee) eventually got bumped up from navigator to the role of chief engineer once Kelly reads his file and learns that John has a genius IQ (“New Dimensions”). Up until that point, LaMarr had been something of an underachiever, who liked to simply hang out with his buddy Gordon, get drunk, and party with the ladies. His ladies’ man reputation not withstanding, Kelly sees great potential in John, and recommends to Ed that he be promoted to Chief Engineer.

John (J Lee) faces his most emotionally—and physically—challenging relationship to date, when he gets serious with super-strong security chief Talla Keyali.

Accepting the job, John quickly settles in, despite some friction with the gelatinous blob engineer, Yaphit (Norm Macdonald), who feels passed over. Engineer LaMarr also forms a close friendship with Isaac, as the two of them work together more often. John even uses the talents of his engineering staff to save Isaac’s life on two occasions (“Identity Part 2,” “Electric Sheep”). By the second season John is running the Orville‘s engineering section with ease, coming up with ingenious solutions to complex problems . One situation that ladies’ man John doesn’t overcome quite so easily is his newfound relationship with the ship’s chief of security, Lt. Commander Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr). Talla hails from the bone crushing gravity of the planet Xelaya, which gives her super-strength in Orville‘s milder, single-G environment (“Twice in a Lifetime”). Whenever John and Talla hook up, injuries follow. However, thanks to Union medical technology, John is able to repeatedly endure such suffering in the name of love (“From Unknown Graves”).

John supervises the Orville’s refit in season 3’s “Electric Sheep.”

Note: Much like LeVar Burton’s character of Geordi La Forge in Star Trek TNG, John LaMarr also made the career switch from navigator to chief engineer. Unlike Geordi, however, John is both a genius and a ladies man, giving him a decided edge over his TNG counterpart. Actor J Lee gives John an easygoing charm and affability that makes his reputation as a galactic Casanova somewhat easy to imagine. Like Scott Grimes, J Lee also worked with “The Orville” creator Seth MacFarlane doing voice acting roles for “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”

Lt. Commander Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr)

The character of Lt. Commander Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) comes from the planet Xelaya, the same planet of bone-crushing gravity as her predecessor, Alara Kitan (Halston Sage). Alara left the ship early in season 2 (“Home”), when it was discovered Orville‘s lighter gravity was adversely affecting her Xelayan physiology. The more experienced Talla took over as chief of security a couple of episodes later (“All the World is Birthday Cake”), and despite her reputation of pushing back (she once broke her former captain’s jaw), she quickly became an invaluable member of the Orville staff.

Lt. Commander Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) is not afraid to kick ass and take a few names in the line of duty.

The seasoned Talla is more extroverted and confident than her younger predecessor (who may have been promoted a bit prematurely). Talla makes friends with First Officer Kelly Grayson, and becomes particularly close with the first officer’s younger self, who is accidentally transported aboard the ship in season 2 (“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”). That episode establishes that Talla is not averse to going clubbing every now and then. The new chief of security also has a brief, ill-fated relationship with a Moclan scientist (“Deflectors”) who is secretly attracted to females (a perversion in the all-male culture of Moclus). Their brief relationship causes a diplomatic incident in the Union’s relationship with Moclus—a relationship that only worsens in the years to come. Eventually, the freakishly strong Talla enters into a bone-snapping relationship with Lt. Commander John LaMarr, leaving him in all kinds of agony during their intense romance (“From Unknown Graves”). The final episode sees the two of them still together, trying to make it work…

Talla takes one for the team, as she is stunned by Gordon during an arranged ‘escape’ in “The Blood Of Patriots.”

Note: Jessica Szohr brings a bit more experience and a lot of spunk to her character of Talla. From the Orville fans I’ve talked to at conventions, there seems to be two camps; those who prefer the waifish Alara and those who prefer the tougher Talla. Personally, I’m in the latter camp, because I like Talla’s take-charge nature and savvier instincts.

Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters)

Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters) has a lot of backstory for a character who appeared in only one season. Transferring to the Orville in season 3 (“Electric Sheep”), following the loss of her previous ship (and girlfriend Amanda) to the Kaylons, Charly is very opinionated, and not afraid to show it. A genius mathematician who is able to think and work in multiple dimensions at once, Charly proves to be a great asset to the Orville crew. However, the young ensign actively resents the ship’s Kaylon science officer, Isaac, who represents the enemy that destroyed everything she loved.

Sorry, Charly…
Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters) was a one-season character who played a significant role in season 3.

Willfully disobeying a direct order from Capt. Mercer to help restore a deactivated Isaac using her unique gifts, Charly is later talked into helping Isaac by teenaged Marcus Finn, who can’t live with the guilt that he may have drove Isaac to suicide. Charly later comes to understand the circumstances surrounding the enslaved Kaylons’ rebellion against their cruel biological masters, which allows her to sympathize with what Isaac’s people endured, even if she doesn’t entirely forgive them (“From Unknown Graves”). Charly eventually works with Isaac to create a complex, all-powerful weapon which obliterates fleets of Kaylon ships with a single pulse. Ed plans to use the device in hopes of suing the Kaylons for peace, but radical factions steal it in order to eliminate the Kaylon threat once and for all. Charly eventually finds the weapon and sets it to self-destruct, killing herself in the process. Charly’s unexpectedly noble sacrifice prompts the Kaylons to see biologicals in a different light, making peace possible (“Domino”).

Note: For a character who was only in the show for one year, actress Anne Winters’ Charly Burke made one hell of an impact.

Yaphit (Norm Macdonald; 1959-2021)

The character of Yaphit (voiced by the late Norm Macdonald) was a gelatinous, sentient, alien blob who was a senior engineer aboard the Orville. Despite their radically different physiology, Yaphit had a smothering attraction to Claire Finn (“Cupid’s Dagger”). Yaphit also had the advantage of being able to easily fit into areas of the ship which were difficult to access by its various humanoid crew members. The sometimes surly Yaphit could also be quite brave and selfless, as well, overpowering several Kaylons who’d taken control of the Orville (“Identity Part 2”) and even crawling deep inside of Isaac in an attempt to reactivate him (“Electric Sheep”). For his uncommon bravery, Capt. Mercer even awarded Yaphit with the Sapphire Star (“Blood of Patriots”).

Yaphit (voice of Norm Macdonald) puts tentacle to hand with a 29th century time-traveler in “Pria.”

Norm MacDonald, a well-known standup comedian who used to be a regular on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” passed away in late 2021 after a long fight with cancer, just after he’d completed all of his voice work for “The Orville.” Even if “The Orville” were to return with new episodes someday, it is highly unlikely that the character of Yaphit could return, unless they hired a soundalike actor (unlikely) or they simply wrote the character off of the show. Given the respect that Seth MacFarlane has demonstrated for the integrity of his series and for its actors, I don’t think he’d use any kind of aural trickery to bring the character back, unless it was for a silent cameo.

Norm Macdonald’s standup routines were absolutely hilarious—I can personally vouch for that.

Note: While I never actually met Norm Macdonald, my sister and I once took in a show of his at a local Improv comedy club back in 2003. My sister, who was taking care of my terminally ill mother at the time, didn’t have many opportunities to get away, but that night we managed to carve out a few hours so she could take in Norm Macdonald’s show at the Improv which was only a few miles from where she lived at the time. After several warmup acts, MacDonald took to the stage, where he tore into then-relevant comic fodder, such as the guilt of O.J. Simpson, and other hilariously hot-button topics. He had my sister and I in tears of laughter, and for a few hours, my sister’s burdens were lightened considerably. I drove her home, and we laughed all the way. It was a near-perfect night for both of us. He is missed.

San Diego Comic Con 2022.

At San Diego Comic Con 2022, I attended the panel for “The Orville: New Horizons” in Ballroom 20 at the San Diego Convention Center. On deck for the panel were Penny Jerald Johnson (“Dr Claire Finn), Mark Jackson (“Isaac”) J. Lee (“John LaMarr”) Peter Macon (“Bortus”) Chad Coleman (“Klyden”), Anne Winters (“Charly Burke”), Jessica Szohr (“Talla Keyali”), series producer Brannon Braga and the surprise addition of series creator/writer/producer/star, Seth MacFarlane, who joined the panel via Zoom.

“The Orville: New Horizons” panel at San Diego Comic Con, July, 2022.
Panelists included Penny Jerald Johnson (“Dr Claire Finn), Mark Jackson (“Isaac”) J. Lee (“John LaMarr”) Peter Macon (“Bortus”) Chad Coleman (“Klyden”), Anne Winters (“Charly Burke”), Jessica Szohr (“Talla Keyali”), series producer Brannon Braga, and the surprise addition of series star/creator/writer/producer Seth MacFarlane (“Capt, Ed Mercer”), who joined the panel via Zoom.

Actor Peter Macon told a horrific story of red ants which crawled into his ‘Bortus’ headpiece during a filming break, only to be sealed back into his scalp when shooting resumed (!). Seth MacFarlane also admitted to Macon that the series frightened him with its daunting storytelling potential, a potential realized in its creatively explosive third season.  MacFarlane also expressed relief that the series was no longer on Fox, as they no longer have to cut scenes to make room for advertisements. MacFarlane also announced that while a fourth season wasn’t yet confirmed, seasons 1-3 would soon be streaming on Disney+, in the hopes of expanding the show’s audience and (perhaps) getting a fourth season. 

Promotional banner for the third season of “The Orville: New Horizons” prominently displayed at San Diego Comic Con 2022.

MacFarlane told the audience in Ballroom 20 that if stream counts for “The Orville” on the lucrative Disney+ are strong, there might be fresh incentive for Disney to put its considerable financial muscle into a revival of the series. While there was some worry about potential cast member unavailability (at the time of the panel, some of them were involved in new projects), MacFarlane seemed reasonably optimistic that a fourth season of the show might still come together.

The show has now been on Disney+ and Hulu since August of 2022. No positive word on a renewal yet, but with a little luck, “The Orville” might someday become Disney’s own “Star Trek.”

Where to Watch, and Please Do!

“The Orville”/”The Orville: New Horizons” is streaming on both Hulu.com and Disney+. Remember, the more it streams, the better its chances for a renewal.

Images: 20th Television, Hulu, Disney+, Paramount+, Author.

26 Comments Add yours

  1. Lorraine Fiel says:

    I watched the first season of The Orville and loved it. I didn’t watch the second season for reasons I don’t remember but probably having to do with time. If I had Hulu or Disney I would definitely watch it.

    1. You really should watch S2 if you can get it, excellent. Just don’t water your time on S3, it’s terrible. Totally ruined the show.

      1. Agree to disagree.

      2. James Greenlee says:

        Wow. I think that’s a minority opinion. The episodes of Season 3 were more grand in scale, better special effects, a real blockbuster feel. I’m surprised to see anyone who liked the first two seasons not liking the third.

      3. I agree.
        However, minority opinions are welcome here, too, as long as they don’t troll. I don’t feed trolls on this site. 😉

      4. Bob says:

        I accidentally stumbled on the site and appreciate the sheer work you must put in. I’d like another series of Orville but with some season 1 humour restored. That slightly Pratchett feeling, of taking scifi tropes to their limits really caught me. (Although I guess we still have Rick and Morty.) Your breakdown of the characters was great. A bit like Tor.com rewatch but better

      5. Bob, thank you so much!
        I appreciate the kind words and (hopefully) your continued readership.

    2. I wish that season 3 was on DVD, but sadly, only 1 & 2 have been issued. I really wish they’d do a BluRay set of the entire series (to date…?).

  2. Mr Howard G Horton says:

    In response to the title of this article oh no it doesn’t!

    S1 & S2 of the Orville were some of the best tv of the last 10 years. Real characters, living real lives, who happened to work on a spaceship. Thought provoking plots tackling current issues without being preachy and telling what to think. Proper adult TV.

    S3 threw all that out for pointless special effects, no humour, and terrible acting from Seth’s new girlfriend.

    The biggest drop in quality season to season I think I’ve ever seen. Good riddance to it.

    1. Agree to disagree.

  3. Sue says:

    I am a oap in all the years of watching tv this is by far the best series ever and i seen a few its just light hearted .no blood and guts sense of humour is wicked .and after i watched numours times i always feel like all my problems have gone just for that hour
    So please make a fourth season but make it soon i am nearly 70 and i would love closure
    Big Orville fan

    1. Same!
      Even a series of made for Disney+ movies would be fine by me, if the cast can’t commit to a full series.

      1. John zvickers says:

        First two seasons very good very funny. This last one was terrible. We don’t need another Star Trek.

      2. Disagree.
        We could always use an aspirational new space show, and “The Orville” was that for me (and others).

  4. Evan B says:

    This is a fantastic article. I feel like I’ve just rewatched the entire series over the course of reading it. I really hope they can find a way to continue the series.

    1. Thank you so much!
      Appreciate the kind words.

  5. Belinda A says:

    I LOVE The Orville , I seriously hope they make an other season.
    It’s my go to show before I go to bed.

  6. Casey Fehl says:

    There needs to be another season of Tge Orville because there’s much more to be seen

  7. Miriam says:

    I sure would love to see a season four of the Orville and beyond. It’s a great show, upbeat, deals with contemporary issues beautifully and is fun to watch. I’m sad it has not been renewed yet.

  8. Will Burton says:

    As a parade it has no equals, long may it continue…

  9. Thai says:

    Stop being so serious all the time. ST has organic moments of levity. That’s what allowed it to not drag, and that’s why S3 of Orville is no good.

    1. I think you missed my point; what I said was
      “After a few episodes, that irritatingly shoehorned-in humor of the early first season gave way to more organic and character-driven laughs. The show was finding its voice.”

      I liked The Orville’s more organic and character-driven humor that came when the show found its way; same with Star Trek.

  10. Kwensi Hatch says:

    Please continue this amazing journey 🙏🏽

  11. Agree completely, it deserves to live on and on.

  12. Alesia Kafeety says:

    LOVE THE ORVILLE. Yes we do need a new Star Trek for this generation ! 😊

  13. James Greenlee says:

    The Orville has the potential to become a franchise, with spinoffs and movies down the line. I think that might be why Disney is taking its time on renewal, and not officially killing it off. It’s a terrible time to renew an expensive show, with massive cutbacks by streamers. But, killing it now could prove to be a big mistake if someone else rescues it, and turns it into a bigger thing.

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