The majority of “Command Performance,” the second episode of Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek homage The Orville, would have fit relatively seamlessly into a season of The Next Generation or Voyager. If you ignore the episode’s ending and guest star Jeffrey Tambor’s extended description of his colon issues, you might be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
The episode opens on a conversation between Captain Mercer (MacFarlane) and his second officer, Lieutenant Bortis, who, having recently laid an egg, is requesting paternity leave. The Orville then answers a distress call from a nearby ship which is apparently carrying Mercer’s parents (Tambor and guest star Holland Taylor). To cut the speakerphone-style conversation with his parents short, Mercer and his ex-wife/first officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) head over to the damaged vessel. It turns out the damaged ship is a trap – a cloaked buoy that scanned the Orville in order to lure the crew aboard. Mercer and Grayson are beamed away, leaving the terrified young Lieutenant Alara Katan (Halston Sage) in command.
Mercer and Grayson find themselves trapped in a picture-perfect replica of their old Earth-side apartment. After they bond over a replicated bottle of scotch, it begins to look like there might be some hope for their relationship to rekindle. Then, they learn that their replica apartment is an exhibit in a zoo. A species called the Callivan has hundreds of “lesser species” on display.
Back on the Orville, Lt. Katan’s first taste of command is off to a rough start. An attempt to examine the Callivan buoy left the ship damaged, and Union command has ordered the Orville to return to Earth, leaving its commanding officers behind. Katan ignores the order, thanks in part to sage advice from Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald). She wins the respect of the crew and, with their help, saves the day.
Overall, this was a strong second showing from The Orville’s creative team. I could easily see the story fitting into Trek canon, with Ensign Kim or Wesley Crusher in Lt. Katan’s shoes. I do think the episode as a whole was weakened by the choice to resolve the plot with a joke about 21st-century television – it worked, but if the show frequently relies on gag endings, it’ll likely become very jarring very quickly.
The Orville, while still finding its legs, has a few points where it really shows promise. The feel of the show is greatly enhanced by its fully orchestrated score. It’s an excellent throwback to classic sci-fi television. I find the show most funny when it’s not pushing a joke to its limits – I especially like the casual, office-style banter between the bridge officers. I’m also surprised by how much I’m enjoying MacFarlane on screen. Captain Mercer is no Jean-Luc Picard, but MacFarlane doesn’t seem out of place on the bridge.
Last week’s episode of The Orville was one of Fox’s most-watched series premieres in years, despite some unfavorable reviews. We’ll see if viewership holds up when the show moves to its regular 9 PM Thursday timeslot next week.
GEEK Rating: B+
The Orville airs Thursday at 9:00 PM on Fox.