How Designers Achieved the Sci-Fi Sound Magic of ‘The Orville’The Orville Brings a Much Better Trailer to SDCC Stay on target After last week’s premiere, I wrote that The Orville still had to decide what it wanted to be. In the second episode, that’s still the case. Knowing that going in, I feel a little better about it. It helps that this episode had a much stronger plot, taking us to a more interesting place. The same problems that weighed down the pilot are still here, but they’re less egregious. For all its flaws, the show feels more comfortable with itself. It’s flying straight along the dividing line between wacky comedy and sci-fi drama. This week, it tilted a little further into the latter category, and was better for it.It helps that this episode borrowed heavily from a classic Star Trek storyline. This was essentially Seth MacFarlane’s remake of “The Cage.” Captain Ed Mercer and First Mate Kelly Grayson are tricked into entering a trap that beams them to an alien zoo, run by a technologically advanced race that looks down on pretty much everyone else. On the ship, Bortus has laid an egg and will incubate it for 21 days. With him out of action, the command has fallen to Alara. Though her physical strength got her promoted quickly, she’s still young and inexperienced when it comes to commanding a starship. That part of the plot really should have been better than it was. It should have been an opportunity for the show to explore who Alara is as a character. Instead, it gave us a rote plot where she makes the wrong choice at first, gets a talking-to and makes the right one. Substitute her with any other character on the show, and nothing would change.Halston Sage (Cr: Jordin Althaus/FOX)That’s really the biggest problem holding the show back. The characters are paper-thin sketches. Two episodes in, we barely know anything about them. The episode took maybe a half step to fix this. Mercer’s source of inspiration being Kermit the Frog is telling and endearing. That’s where it stopped, though. John LaMarr is still almost entirely devoid of personality, and Gordon Malloy has already lost what little he had in the pilot. These characters were all given some basic character traits in the pilot, but the show continues to do nothing with them. They are all whatever they need to be in the current scene. It hinders both the comedy and the drama, and is really the reason neither element is working as well as it should. Seth MacFarlane is clearly a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, to the point where it feels like he’d rather be making that show instead. It’d help a lot if he stepped out of that box and dove into what makes these characters worth watching, rather than vaguely gesturing at the better, more fleshed-out cast of TNG.In the main plot, a much more interesting premise saves the show. Going to the alien zoo was fun, and gave us a reason to rehash Ed and Kelly’s bickering about their former relationship. It’s still not nearly as funny as MacFarlane thinks it is, but at least it’s motivated by circumstance this time. The addition of Ed’s parents at the beginning of the episode also helped inject some life into the joke. Jeffrey Tambor can make pretty much anything funny. The zoo plot was an excuse to take us to an entirely new and strange world, and introduce us to a ton of different alien life forms. That alone made it more fun to watch than the by-the-numbers MacGuffin plot we got last week. The writers had to think of a creative solution for it too, which played on The Orville’s strengths. Isaac’s belief that androids are superior to organic life puts him on the same level as the aliens running the zoo. With Alara posing as his pet, they make a deal with the zookeeper for an even better human exhibit: Early 21st-century reality television. It’s the kind of joke you expect from MacFarlane, but because of that, it lands perfectly. It’s funny, it’s well-told, it’s a little easy but who cares if it makes you laugh? It’s that kind of writing, relying on what we know about these characters to drive the scene and capping it off with a funny joke, that I’d like to see more of on The Orville.Scott Grimes and J Lee (Cr: Jordin Althaus/FOX)Ultimately, lowered expectations made for a more pleasant viewing experience. Now that I know what this show is like, I can be pleasantly surprised by the good moments, rather than disappointed by everything else. The optimistic, positive tone remains a welcome change from the overwhelming dark and gritty dramas that occupy the rest of TV. That goodwill isn’t going to last forever, though. The Orville needs to flesh out its characters soon. That will allow it to tell better stories and write better jokes. Until then, the show will remain at the level of just OK at best. Its novelty will carry it for a couple episodes. If it doesn’t bring anything substantial to the table soon, it won’t survive though midseason. For now, it’s fine. Just fun enough that I don’t regret spending an hour of my evening on it. It’s just frustrating when there’s clearly a much better show in here that remains just beyond The Orville’s reach.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.