For someone who has built his career around using various animated shows to tastelessly skewer celebrities of all kinds, Seth MacFarlane has amassed a surprisingly larger number of notable friends and frequent collaborators, most of whom presumably don’t mind the occasional joke at their expense or simply revel in the chance to be silly. That MacFarlane would call in some favors to get these friends/collaborators to put in a profile-boosting guest spot on The Orville is not altogether shocking; what is a tad surprising, though, is how quickly they’ve arrived in the show’s run and how mostly serious they’ve been.

Last week, Liam Neeson popped in to play a long-dead scientist delivering a sobering, but ultimately hopeful message via archival video. It’s the type of thing he probably knocked out in a day, maybe even just a morning, and the episode around him was fine, but ultimately ho-hum. Now, in “Pria” Charlize Theron does him one better in playing a full-blown character, an apparent damsel in distress named Pria Lavesque who ultimately emerges as a deceitful love interest. There are some jokes about how hot she is because of course they are, but there’s also a precisely put together plot and rather cinematic direction from Jonathan Frakes, turning “Pria” into a rather exceptional episode.

The story is a classic Trek set-up in that our crew encounter and save someone who turns out to be lying to them, setting us up perfectly for several nice surprise act breaks. Well, not so much “surprise” in that we’re shocked to learn Pria’s story, i.e, that she’s simply part of a mining consortium, doesn’t add up; more “surprise” in the “we’re just waiting to see what the twist is going to be” kind of way. Thankfully, the twist is a fairly fun spin on time travel, revealing that our poor crash landed mining ship captain is actually a traveler from the future who goes into the past to steal antique ships which were destroyed in the original timeline. Thus, Pria saves the Orville from a dark matter storm just so she can sell the ship to some scary aliens back in her present, their future.

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This twist assumes the antiques economy will still exist in some form centuries from now, but that’s a thought you couldn’t even really entertain in classic, optimistic Roddenberry Trek mode where the utopian future is supposed to be free of all commerce (well, outside of Ferengi, of course). This is The Orville enjoying its freedom to live up to the spirit of Trek but not the letter of the law of Trek. Beyond all of that, it’s a pretty bold, almost Rick & Morty move to establish The Orville has suddenly transitioned into an alternate timeline since everyone originally died in that dark matter storm.

Of course, while The Orville is obviously so indebted to Trek it almost borders on plagiarism it’s not the only show being used as inspiration. In truth, MacFarlane’s prior animation and live-action work suggests someone who grew up on lots and lots of TV and film, particularly anything in the 80s. So, much of what he does is to simply offer twisted takes on familiar, staid storylines. “Pria” continues that tradition by following in many a sitcom’s footsteps by in telling the post-breakup storyline where a man or woman’’s well-founded suspicions over their ex’s new guy or gal is repeatedly written off as mere jealousy. In this case, it’s Kelly suspecting the worst of Pria and even sucking Alara into her snooping, much to Mercer’s dismay. “Pria” does just enough with this, not too much, and I suspect the emerging case that Kelly should be the Captain instead of Ed is something the show doesn’t realize it’s doing.

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However, what really impresses me about “Pria” is how complete it is. I’ve seen The Orville described as not a comedy, but instead a Star Trek action-drama which happens to feature characters who’ll actually crack a joke from time to time. That’s accurate, but it’s also created a slight imbalance in most of the episodes, resulting in broad comedy bits that just kind of hang in the air and feel out of place.

“Pria,” though, is the first episode where all of the show’s various elements felt perfectly blended together. An opening throwaway bit involving an old Seinfeld episode is called back beautifully in the tense finale. A Million Ways to Die in the West-style gag involving MacFarlane and Theron and bantering ala Woody Allen and Diane Keaton that Annie Hall park bench fits seamlessly. A sidestory about Malloy learning the follies of entering into a prank war with a robot earns a big laugh after a rather lame beginning, and then is paid off to great effect during an otherwise serious confrontation between Mercer, Alara, Kelly and Pria. Several jokes are created through clever editing (such as cutting from Ed’s “I have an idea” to him simply shooting at something to see if that’ll fix things) without ever undercutting the drama.

My only real reservation is with the ending, which doesn’t quite pass the time-travel-logic smell test. It’s like they’re trying to say none of this ever happened, yet it obviously must have because otherwise they would have died without Pria’s help. Maybe I just didn’t completely understand their explanation, or maybe I was just sad to see Charlize Theron disappear. She makes everything better. Even The Orville.

THE NOTES AND NITPICKS

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  1. “Captain, respectfully submit that the attractiveness of the ship’s occupant makes the rescue imperative.” – Ugh.
  2. If nothing else, “Pria” gave us Charlize Theron, an Oscar winner, effortlessly delivering Star Trek technobabble. Plus, on a general nerd level, we got to see Furiosa/Atomic Blonde fight Mockingbird.
  3. Slightly surprised Mercer didn’t automatically connect the dots and realize Malloy, his best friend who openly promised to pull a Clooney-esque prank, was responsible for the Mr. Potato Head on Isaac.
  4. Is this the first episode where we’ve seen the crew in their casual attire?
  5. Wait, is this also the first episode where we’ve seen the engine room AND met their HR nightmare of a Scotty stand-in?
  6. Wow, the Orville crew really has no respect for mining consortiums.
  7. “Housekeeping” – Family Guy easter egg, right?
  8. Nice to see Nancy Drew’s survived into the 25th century as a topical reference.
  9. The dark matter cluster looked like one of those default screensavers on your phone you change right away.
  10. Lots of solid, intense-staring-at-view-screen in this episode.
  11. MacFarlane and Theron’s romantic banter is them in A Million Ways to Die in the West mode.
  12. Strange at how strange it is to see a Star Trek-esque captain actually have sex, I say as someone who grew up on Picard, Sisko and Janeway and not Kirk.
  13. Seth Grimes yelling is when you really hear the Steve Smith (from American Dad) in him.
  14. A “he’s dead” act break? Classic Star Trek Orville.
  15. Oh, we were so close to a “I’m a doctor, not a….” line with Dr. Finn. Why couldn’t she have just said, “I’m a doctor, not a mechanic.”
  16. Love that Pria had never heard the “go to hell” expression.
  17. So, who’s next in the Seth MacFarlane guest star carousel? Giovanni Ribisi? Neil Patrick Harris? Mark Wahlberg? Patrick Warburton? Amanda Seyfried? Patrick Stewart wouldn’t do it, would he? The nerd universe wouldn’t allow it.

What did you think of “Pria”? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

6 Comments

  1. Well, here’s a rare case where I disagree with your assessment. Normally, we’re pretty much in sync, but I was vastly disappointed in this episode.

    When I saw the guest star was Charlise, I was excited because they were great together in A Thousand Ways to Die in the West. But, I didn’t sense any of that chemistry here.

    I thought the Jealosy vs Caution bits were heavy handed and Mercer’s blindness to even the possibility of danger was stupidity on the verge of malpractice.

    OTOH, that was something that bugged me all the time on Star Trek — how often they allowed strangers free run of the ship, so maybe this was a subtle nod to that.

    I thought the practical joke on Isaac was poorly done and Malloy’s mirth looked so forced I would swear he’d just had an argument where he told the director this wasn’t funny and wouldn’t play well and got overridden.

    It was clear the return practical joke would be neither funny nor practical but I actually did get a kick out of it being an actual amputation.

    However, I find it beyond believably that they have the technology to grow back an entire leg in a matter of a day or two. But, it was kind of funny to see him limping in with a floppy leg.

    I dislike stories where the whole conflict is based on stupid mistakes the characters make. And this was full of them. What kind of security officer — or First Office, for that matter — doesn’t think to have their subject watched while searching their room. To have her show up mid search showed immense incompetence by the both of them.

    I agree with you that the Timey Wimey stuff was inconsistent. If she never came back then she never saved them, so… ???

    The time travel concept was straight out of the 1989 movie, “Millenium” where the traveler doesn’t mess up the time line because they only intercede with people who were about to die, anyway.

    The big question is, how much did the future change now that the Orville and its crew are now alive?

    The other thing I did like was that apparently Isaac entering the ship’s computer was part of the plan all along. That was clever and well done. I also liked when Malloy admitted he thought the amputation gag was pretty funny in hindsight.

    I’m getting tired of Mercer asking Alara to open the pickle jar every time he can’t open a door.

    Finally, there’s no security with phasers on the bridge? A guest can start a fight and there’s no one to intervene? I half expected the crew to surround them shouting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

    Anyway, I rate this as 4th out of the 5 episodes, so far. Sad because, with Charlise, it really should have been the best.

    Reply

    1. “I thought the Jealosy vs Caution bits were heavy-handed and Mercer’s blindness to even the possibility of danger was stupidity on the verge of malpractice.”

      You’re not wrong. Maybe at this point I just blindly accept Mercer’s not really that great at this job. The jealousy versus caution stuff, though, I think I was okay with because they didn’t go nearly as far with it as they could have.

      “When I saw the guest star was Charlise, I was excited because they were great together in A Thousand Ways to Die in the West. But, I didn’t sense any of that chemistry here”

      I saw hints of it. For whatever reason, MacFarlane and Theron are really good together when it’s just him telling jokes to impress her. There’s a lot of that in Die in the West, and there was a fair bit of it with them on the holodeck and then in bed together. But, no, it was nowhere near as pronounced as it was in West.

      “I thought the practical joke on Isaac was poorly done and Malloy’s mirth looked so forced I would swear he’d just had an argument where he told the director this wasn’t funny and wouldn’t play well and got overridden.”

      I thought so too until the payoff where Isaac amputated his leg. Up until that point it was a lame, family-friendly distraction in the classic mode of Data not understanding humanity. Then when Isaac got it so, so wrong and took it way too far it suddenly worked for me. Data pushing Crusher over the deck of a ship because he doesn’t understand humor is a weak joke; Isaac cutting off someone’s leg and hiding it is a better one. It’s at least shocking enough that it made me laugh.

      “What kind of security officer — or First Office, for that matter — doesn’t think to have their subject watched while searching their room. To have her show up mid search showed immense incompetence by the both of them.”

      Have they never heard of appointing a lookout?

      “I’m getting tired of Mercer asking Alara to open the pickle jar every time he can’t open a door.”

      It should have stayed a one-off joke. Agreed.

      “I half expected the crew to surround them shouting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!””

      I wouldn’t have been shocked to see that, especially given Malloy and Lamar’s history of juvenile banter.

      Just like to add that I loved how completely not into the practical jokes Bortus was.

      Reply

  2. –> “Oh, we were so close to a “I’m a doctor, not a….” line with Dr. Finn. Why couldn’t she have just said, “I’m a doctor, not a mechanic.””

    Yeah, I was totally expecting that, too… which is why I’m sure they twisted it. The joke was to make us think that’s where she was going and then fool us. Well done!

    Reply

    1. I agree. They don’t walk into that set-up so perfectly and not pay it off on accident. It must have been intentional.

      Reply

  3. It might be that making the first officer appear smarter than the captain is an accidental side effect of the need for dramatic conflict. If the junior ranking officer is smarter than the senior ranking officer, then the junior ranking officer has a dramatic struggle. If it is the other way around, it’s just someone giving orders.

    Reply

    1. Fair point. One side equals drama, the other side the boring, expected order of things.

      Reply

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