The Orville: 2.01 Ja'loja
The first season of The Orville was a delightful surprise. What first appeared to be a Star Trek parody series (Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy in space) actually became something rather endearing; heartfelt moments mixed with office banter comic moments and a genuine sense of wonder. On many occasions this felt less like watching Galaxy Quest the series and more something in the spirit of Star Trek: The Next Generation. While Star Trek: Discovery was the intense modern-style take on Star Trek the franchise probably needed, The Orville was like a nostalgic blanket of TNG-style adventures with a dash of comedy on top.
The opening episode of The Orville season two was originally the final part of the first but the decision to hold it back works as it is less a dramatic thrilling adventure and more a heartfelt and funny exploration of its characters that works as a reintroduction to the crew we were first introduced to last year. Ja'Loja probably won't top the list of favourite episodes but there was a lot to enjoy.
The narrative thread is Peter Maco's Commander Bortus's need to return to his homework for an annual ritual - we've seen him in a quasi-Worf role previously and this pits him as an original Star Trek series Spock, whose alien rituals would see the Enterprise travel to Vulcan. Of course being The Orville it also has a slightly jokey, almost cruiser twist in the 'annual urination' ritual that is the Ja'Loja. It's a little ridiculously but the episode plays it seriously and with heart so that you just go with it.
But the core of the episode is the exploration of the characters on the ship's voyage to Bortus's home world. While not terribly exciting, the episode took the time to deal with the fallout of Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) realising he still wanted to be with ex wife and first officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who was now had moved on to a new relationship with the ship's teacher Cassius (Chris Johnson). There were some amusing moments - Ed and his shuttle drive by of Kelly's quarters, Ed giving Cassius advice on his ex-wife and Ed's lonely daily trips to the barman to drown his sorrows- and MacFarlane and Palicki brought a lot of endearing qualities to their characters.
And Ed wasn't the only lonely soul on the ship; Alara (Halston Sage) found herself witnessing some truly awful love poetry after Bortus suggested she date fellow hopeless in love crewmember Dann, while Scott Grimes' Gordon' and attempts to ask out new crewmember Lieutenant Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus) were rather hilarious as Lieutenant Cmdr. John LaMarr (J Lee) convinced him that the way to attract a woman was to get a jacket with as many zips as possible. Interestingly it seemed that there was real chemistry with Janel and captain Ed by the episode's end.
The best moments of the episode were reserved for dead pan robotic lifeform Isaac (Mark Jackson) whose continued exploration of humanity saw him fascinated by Doctor Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald)'s terrible mothering of teenage son Marcus after he started hanging out with bad influence James. I'm not sure whether they're going for a Claire becoming romantically attracted to Isaac storyline but I'm loving his continued interactions with her and her kids after the events of season one.
It was all, amusing, entertaining stuff, though perhaps not as exciting as you would expect from a season opener. Ultimately it feels a little forgettable light filler, designed to have fun with the various core and recurring characters and introducing new ones like Jason Alexander's wise bartender Olix to the mix (is he inspired by the introduction of Guinan in season two opener of Star Trek: The Next Generation?). But with reintroductions out of the way, I'm hoping the second season can really start to have fun. If it reaches the level of most of season one's episodes, then I'll be happy.