You travel through space, sooner or later you're going to run into one of those whole civilisations who don't know they're living on a space ship or a robot or a giant slug, until you need to tell them they're going to collide with a sun or something. It's happened already to the Orville in the fourth episode of Seth MacFarlane's series, once again an episode written by MacFarlane, and once again a pretty entertaining one.
It was only a few months ago we saw another new iteration of this plot, in the season finale of Doctor Who where it was one of a bunch of concepts thrown in as window dressing for the main conflict between the Doctor, the Master, and the Cybermen. Of course it wasn't the first time Doctor Who has used this kind of plot--it's not unlike The Ark from the First Doctor era, or Underworld from the Fourth Doctor era. And of course it's happened on Star Trek more than once, the most obvious model being the concisely titled "For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky".
Spoilers after the screenshot
The Orville episode, "If the Stars Should Appear", presents a less complicated version of the concept than the one shown in the recent Twelfth Doctor finale, allowing the crew to gradually learn about this society and its totalitarian theocracy headed by the menacing Robert Knepper as the villain Hamelac.
The scene where he tortures Kelly (Adrian Palicki) for info is one of the scenes that highlight exactly how the show is distinguished from Star Trek--we may have seen scenes like this dozens of times, but Kirk, Picard, or Spock would never say the people the torturer seeks were last seen having sex with his mother and high fiving. A lot of the humour on this show feels like MacFarlane was watching Star Trek years ago, wishing dialogue would be pushed just a little further. Now that he's doing it it is refreshing.
At the same time, the simplicity of his presentation of this well used concept is intriguing. As good as that Doctor Who finale was, it's nice to see someone saying these old stories are worth stopping and dwelling on rather than using them as wallpaper. Because ideologies preventing us from confronting our self destructive treatment of the environment certainly haven't gone away. One might think it's too transparently talking about climate change, but it's about the same level of subtlety Gene Roddenberry was aiming at in the 60s.
Of course, if it'd been more like Star Trek in the 60s, Ed (Seth MacFarlance) would have at least one make out session with a native. As it is, there's some indication that Alara (Halston Sage) is starting to get a crush on her captain. This might go over better if it's handled by writers other than MacFarlane, but I'd certainly like the show to explore other relationship issues aside from one partner complaining the other spends too much time focusing on their career.
The scene between Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad Coleman) at the beginning of the episode was cute but it would have been better coming before last week's--it's hard to settle into a little domestic scene when the memory of Klyden forcing their infant to get a sex change is too recent.
Otherwise, though, I enjoyed the action sequence and LaMarr's (J.Lee) "Boom, bitch!"--another moment of Star Trek dialogue being pushed into something just a bit more down to Earth--and I liked Isaac (Mark Jackson) puzzling over the inferior humans. Liam Neeson's cameo at the end of the episode helped lend the story just the right amount of gravity, too.