Many people seem to feel that the second episode of The Orville, "Command Performance", which aired last night, is an improvement over the first episode and in some ways I agree. It had the first moment that really made me laugh thanks to a cameo by Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor as Ed's parents. The scene takes the fractious relationship between Deanna Troi and her mother and pushes it to the higher comedic pitch Orville allows by having them discuss Ed's colon over the main viewer. Yet even this scene doesn't sabotage the reality of the story as a similar moment in a parody might--I believe Ed might have parents who embarrass him this much. And this represents what might be really interesting about the show if it can get through some growing pains, though I might settle for it becoming more of a straight forward space opera--that stuff tends to land more on the show than the comedy stuff does.
I think one of the reasons this episode represents an improvement is actually the directing--surprising given the first episode was directed by Jon Favreau. Robert Duncan McNeill, who played Tom Paris on Star Trek Voyager and who directed several episodes of that series, brings even more of a Star Trek feel to The Orville. The beats at the beginning especially, with an establishing shot of the ship followed by a low momentum scene in Ed's office felt exactly like the beginning of so many Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Next Generation episodes. This episode was again written by Seth MacFarlane and it made me even more eager to see how the show might be with a teleplay by a Star Trek writer.
"Command Performance" combines two relatively familiar plots--humans getting caught in an alien zoo and someone taking command for the first time--you could cite TOS's "The Menagerie" and Data's subplot in TNG's "Redemption" along with many other examples. In this case, the human zoo plot is used to put Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) in a locked room together to hash out some of their relationship issues. It was a nice scene, it helped Kelly feel like more of a character, especially thanks to a nice, open, conversational performance from Palicki, and it really gave a sense of the two of them having had a relationship. The story about the opera and Ed being so high he believed he would be paralysed if he sat still too long was funny in a fairly authentic way.
The other plot centres on the ship's security chief, Alara (Halston Sage), who has to take command in the absence of Ed and Kelly because the normal third in line, Bortus (Peter Macon), has laid an egg and must sit on it for twenty one days, an idea which sounds like it'll be explored more in the third episode. I liked Alara's plot, especially the scene where she rushes down to the shuttle bay after an accident that's ripped an impressive hole in the deck. I found myself really caught up in her anxiety about responsibility and there's also a nice conversation between her and Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) about the burden of command.
Maybe this means I'm getting old but I wish Alara was played by an older actress. I think in the first episode it's established that Alara's species matures faster but I would have liked to have seen some evidence of this in the episode. Her taking the tequila shots from the replicators was a nice bit of humanising but it would have been nice if she'd had a moment where she really showed there was an older mind inside that body. I think there've been some complaints about a young actress being in this role purely for sex appeal. I don't have anything against sex appeal myself, even if it stretches credibility--it is fantasy, after all. But it would have been nice if I could buy into her character a little more. On the other hand, maybe I'm thinking of this as too much like Star Trek--this isn't the flagship so maybe a really young security officer isn't far fetched at all. Halston Sage does a decent job in the role--I found her halting delivery a little distracting but I think she's doing it to sound alien.
Less impressive is Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Finn. Jerald is actually a Star Trek veteran--she played Cassidy Yates on Deep Space Nine, but unfortunately I'm only reminded of how boring I thought that character was, largely because of Jerald's lacklustre performance. But I don't know, maybe she'll grow on me. I liked her reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi, I only wish the name had slid off her tongue a little more naturally. I'm still looking forward to the next episode.