One of the site’s readers mentioned in the comments section of my last Orville review that the jokes on this show feel as if they need a laugh track to survive. Without the crutch of the canned laughter of an easily amused studio audience, Orville’s lame jokes just hang there, mostly dying on the vine. Or so the argument goes.

I don’t think that’s been true of every episode, but it’s never been truer than it is for “Krill,” the hackiest episode to date.

Malloy and Mercer went undercover as Krill soldiers as part of a Kelly Hu-ordered mission to infiltrate a Krill ship and make a copy of their holy text to grant the Union a better understanding of their new enemy. This was framed in slight Israel-Palestine metaphorical terms, and brought forth two twists:

1) The Krill have an experimental, planet-destroying weapon they plan to test on a peaceful planet consisting of over 100,000 people

2) The Krill ship has children on it.

For Malloy and Mercer, stopping the Krill from destroying the planet meant endangering the innocent Krill children, several of whom were seen questioning Krill ideology and expressing an interest in truly understanding Earth. The result, that they managed to use UV rays to kill all but one of the adult Krills (who, we learn, are basically space vampires) while also sparing the children and saving the innocent planet, resulted in a wonderfully bleak parting scene. The Krill school teacher Mercer had befriended offered no thanks for being spared and poured some hot lava over his conscious, awkwardly observing that his actions to save the kids while killing the adults would be seen by the children as a massacre. He’s turned them into his enemies, even if they won’t be old enough to seek vengeance for another decade.

Heady stuff. Pretty, pretty heady (I say as someone who has clearly watched too much Curb Your Enthusiasm lately) with some pretty obvious real-world parallels.

So, why did it have to come wrapped in a seemingly non-stop barrage of cheap, 20th-century pop culture-specific jokes, such as associating Krill religious beliefs with similar-sounding auto insurance companies that no one in the 25th century will ever logically remember? This is perhaps because Malloy and Mercer isolated together brings out the worst in this show. Among The Orville’s ensemble cast, Scott Grimes seems to be the most attuned to Seth MacFarlane’s signature comedic rhythms and tendencies. This is most likely because Grimes has been dealing it out for over a decade now as the voice of Steven Smith on American Dad. So, while putting their characters together makes sense considering Mercer and Malloy’s friendship it’s something they should keep to a minimum because when these two are left to carry an episode they mostly riff their way through it in the most obnoxious way possible.

DGwKQ9iVYAAg9y6.jpg

Scott Grimes promoting The Orville on Twitter exactly the way you’d expect from a MacFarlane acolyte.

The biggest mystery here, then, was simply why the Krill didn’t immediately catch on that these two guys were clearly faking. They identified themselves using weird, human-sounding names. They walked around like they’d never been on a Krill ship before or worn Krill armor. They seemed overly interested in specifics of the ship’s mission and only spoke of the Krill religion in vague generalities. Overall, they generally behaved like people who had no idea how to be Krill.

Of course, that’s the comedy, and it’s another example of Orville taking a familiar Trek story – i.e., the covert infiltration of an enemy ship – and tweaked it for more obvious humor. In this case, much of it was in the more mundane “Why in these kinds of Trek episodes did this never happen?” kind of way, such as when Ed tries to cross his arms and realizes you can’t do that in the Krill armor. However, “Krill” needed more restraint in this area, or at the very least it needed better jokes. It had neither, and the result is a heady episode undercut by jokes that needed a laugh track to survive.

THE NOTES AND NITPICKS

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  1. Another thing you’d never see on Star Trek: Federation members joyfully testing an alien’s resilient digestive system to see what crazy things he could eat before feeling any pain. Too collegehumor-y for Roddenberry’s vision.
  2. Nice little bit of genre comedy there, the whole business with Ed speaking before Alara had finished opening the hailing channel.
  3. I never can read whether or not Ed is supposed to be good at his job, but his smokescreen trick is a definite moment of extreme competence.
  4. And then the rest of the episode is a nearly non-stop display of his incompetence, at least until he devises that plan with the UV rays.
  5. We can pretty easily call bullshit on the rationale for why exactly Ed had to be a part of the mission with Malloy, but the same is true for so, so many Star Trek episodes which placed the Captain in danger for no good reason.
  6. So, the Krill don’t have any kind of formal debriefing, detainment or medical inspection procedure for battle survivors? They just let them board their ship, talk to them for a minute and give them free rein to go wherever they want.
  7. Why did it seem like every Krill security guard was on his smoke break before noticing Mercer just blatantly walking down the middle of the corridor? Not one of them was standing with their weapons at attention.
  8. “Go play in traffic” – Funny? Or classic MacFarlane shoving in a quick, mean-spirited joke to undercut sentiment?
  9. Hey, are you watching The Orville on Fox On Demand yet? Because they really want us to know we can. Watch it all On Demand. On Fox. Because that’s cool. And not all because the ratings have been tanking ever since the pilot or that Fox is desperate to hype up its streaming service and lean into binge culture.
  10. The actors under the Krill makeup and prosthetics can actually deliver dialogue which is both varied and easily decipherable? Take that, Star Trek: Discovery’s Klingons!
  11. One bit I did laugh at = Grimes and MacFarlane pulling a Ted and firing off random alien names. Seemed like that was a window into the writer’s room frustration/bemusement over how to name alien characters.

What did you think of “Krill”? 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.

28 Comments

  1. I checked out of it before they even made it to the Krill ship. You are right. Grimes and Mcfarlane bring out the worst in each other, and I just couldn’t get past that.
    And yeah, you were right about the women being the smartest characters on the show,although I dont know if that’s a deliberate thing or just a happy accident.

    Reply

    1. It all probably speaks to the innate contradictions in MacFarlane as a person and entertainer. The fact that he can sincerely claim to have been taking a stance for women by shaming Harvey Weinstein with his joke at the Oscars while forgetting that he also sang the “we saw your boobs” song at that very same Oscars suggests a devil and angel constantly reside on that man’s shoulders. He just doesn’t always seem to know which side is winning, or, indeed, that any such battle inside his conscious is even happning. And so now we have a show which genuinely wants to speak to serious issues and use its sci-fi for metaphorical commentary but also wants to makes jokes. Those two can, in theory, go together, but when they’re the kind of jokes MacFarlane really likes it establishes such a jarring contrast.

      Reply

  2. This show really does suffer from not knowing what kind of show it wants to be — or else it thinks it can be both silly and serious.

    Two shows come to mind that handle the mix pretty well are Lethal Weapon and Psych.

    LW leans toward Serious with some Silly while Psych leans towards the Silly with some Serious. But they pull it off quite well.

    In the case of Murtaugh and Riggs, even with all the silly banter, there’s never any doubt that they are both quite good at what they do.

    In the case of Psych, they did sometimes struggle with whether Shawn was highly competent but board or whether he was an idiot savant. But even there, they hit more often than they missed.

    The kind of dialog Mercer and Mallay had in front of the Krill was so childish it’s impossible to accept them as a brilliant officer and super-pilot. They could still banter. They could still say silly things. But not with sincerity. Not where it should get them killed.

    I did think the cafeteria scene worked — with seeing how bizarre Bortus would go in eating things.

    I also think the bit worked with Alara and Isaac. That was all funny stuff that didn’t feel like Cosplay. But the contrast between idiocy and brilliance from Mercer and Malloy on the Krill ship was too jarring to accept that these are real people. And the seriousness of the story ruined any chance of looking at it as a non-realistic comedy.

    Also, Grimes seems to have zero ability to feign humor. Every time he “busts up laughing”, it looks like he’s making fun of something someone else said and they thought it was funny but it wasn’t, so he’s mock laughing at them. Even Seth’s mirth at tricking the crew into thinking he was a Krill never looked like he actually thought it was funny.

    I’d like to see them either ditch the humor or figure out how to do a Riggs/Murtaugh stile zaniness. What they’re doing isn’t working. Odd thing is, the serious side of the story telling is of a much higher quality than the humor side of it.

    Reply

    1. “Also, Grimes seems to have zero ability to feign humor. ”

      Which is strange. I’ve watched Grimes since he I was just a little younger than him and he was the kid actor protagonist in the first couple of Critters films. Then he went on to Party of Five, a multi-year stint on ER and voice acting. He never struck me as an amazing actor, but at least a competent one. Moreover, a very authentic one. So seeing him struggle in playing those huge moments of Malloy “busting up laughing” is odd. I keep thinking, “Why aren’t you better at this?” It strikes me was being another symptom of the show’s larger disease of tonal inconsistency.

      “Odd thing is, the serious side of the story telling is of a much higher quality than the humor side of it.

      Agreed.

      “This show really does suffer from not knowing what kind of show it wants to be — or else it thinks it can be both silly and serious. Two shows come to mind that handle the mix pretty well are Lethal Weapon and Psych.”

      Won’t lie: I did a double-take when I read that. Leathal Weapon and Psycho? Really? Why would they be anyone’s go-to comparison for The Orville?

      But you make some good points. Plus, all three shows are procedurals. Sure, two of them are cop procedurals and the other sci-fi, but they are still procedurals with similar weekly story structures. The real difference is Psycho and Leathal Weapon are buddy comedies; Orville, despite what we saw in this episode, is not. Even with the occasional showcase episode for a supporting character, Psych and Lethal Weapon’s default settings are always Shawn and Gus together and Riggs and Murtaugh together. So, that provides them the benefit of having a central relationship as well as a far more limited set of tools to work with or worry about. The Orville has been far more ensemble-based to this point, and is still playing around with which characters pair best with which other characters. Plus, the Orville has thus far been less character-based and more about big sci-fi ideas. Psych and Lethal Weapon don’t have to care what their stories say about the larger world. So, it’s just a little more complicated for them than those other shows.

      However, I think you are generally right. Psych and Lethal Weapon consistently prove capable of juggling the serious and the silly, and the comparison to Psych is apt since James Roday both on and away from the show is someone with a very particular sense of humor that some people struggle to get past and take him seriously (ala MacFarlane).

      Reply

      1. When you first wrote “psycho”, I thought you really did think I was comparing The Orville to that thriller movie. Glad to see it was either a typo or just poking fun at Psych.

        As for The Orville being an ensemble, that’s technically true. But, much of the interaction is in parings: Mercer and Grayson; Mercer and Malloy; Malloy and LaMarr; Finn and Yaffit.

        And it’s during the banter between these pairings that the show falls flat and where lessons from my two example shows could be taken.

        Especially when Mercer and Grayson are bantering in front of aliens — both allies and enemies. Instead of looking clueless, the humor could be like in Lethal Weapon, which comes across as 1) having some fun at the expense of the people they’re interacting with; and 2) confusing their “enemies” which helps them get what they want.

        All of the pairings on The Orville have the potential to have mini-buddy-cop dynamics and insert humor that’s funny but not slapstick and that doesn’t make our protagonists look stupid.

      2. “When you first wrote “psycho”, I thought you really did think I was comparing The Orville to that thriller movie. Glad to see it was either a typo or just poking fun at Psych.”

        Nope. Typo.

        “As for The Orville being an ensemble, that’s technically true. But, much of the interaction is in parings: Mercer and Grayson; Mercer and Malloy; Malloy and LaMarr; Finn and Yaffit.

        And it’s during the banter between these pairings that the show falls flat and where lessons from my two example shows could be taken.”

        Agreed, but Psych and Leathal Weapon at least have the benefit of having the same pairing all the time. Orville has couplings it likes to try, but not one which is central to every single episode. Just thinking of it from the writers’ perspective, why their task is more challenging and all that.

        “Instead of looking clueless, the humor could be like in Lethal Weapon, which comes across as 1) having some fun at the expense of the people they’re interacting with; and 2) confusing their “enemies” which helps them get what they want.”

        Agreed.

  3. –> “Nice little bit of genre comedy there, the whole business with Ed speaking before Alara had finished opening the hailing channel.”

    Actually, I did like that. It was funny AND spoofy and it worked in context, too.

    Reply

    1. Yeah. A little moment like that works. It’s a joke so obvious you can’t believe you’ve seen it before, but by the time you’ve started laughing at it the episode has moved on already because the joke wasn’t the point. It was just a joke.

      Reply

  4. As an example of Seth’s humor not working — but where it COULD — is in the pilot when the Krill that was threatening to destroy them was not centered on the view screen.

    The way Seth played it was that it really bothered him and wouldn’t be able have the conversation until the guy was center screen.

    But, he COULD have done as sort of a pattern interrupt to throw the Krill off balance so Mercer could get the upper hand. It would have been both funny AND brilliant and wouldn’t have made Mercer look like a childish, incompetent brat.

    Reply

    1. Oh, good memory. I’d already forgotten that bit from the pilot. I think your version of the scene would have played better, but the version they went with played like something you’d expect from MacFarlane. That was a very Family Guy-like bit both in concept and execution. MacFarlane loves to stop and harp over the mundane, stuff as simple as Stewie overly pronouncing the “h” in “coolwhip”

      Reply

  5. I do think you’re right that Seth is trying to add as many eye rolling tropes from sci fi shows as he can — like coming onto the ship w/ no debriefing. But, he does it straight so you really can’t tell he’s poking fun at the genre. Seems there would be a lot of ways to wink at the audience about such things w/o pulling us out of the story.

    Reply

  6. –> “The actors under the Krill makeup and prosthetics can actually deliver dialogue which is both varied and easily decipherable? Take that, Star Trek: Discovery’s Klingons!” YES! The Krill are handled far superior to Discovery’s Klingons.

    For all the talk about The Orville being Seth’s Cosplay reward, they’re certainly making the Discovery Klingons look like the Cosplayers.

    Reply

    1. With these things, it’s always possible that all the Krill dialogue had to be ADRed afterward because what they got on set was too indecipherable. However, given how much of the Orville’s crew and producing team seems to have been carried over from Enterprise, Voyager and DS9 and other Trek shows I imagine what we saw in the episode is what happened that day on set. One imagines the people making the show know how to do aliens who both look interesting and can be understood because they already did it for years on old Trek.

      Reply

      1. –> “One imagines the people making the show know how to do aliens who both look interesting and can be understood because they already did it for years on old Trek.”

        Yes, but it should be even more true for Discovery, given that it’s an ACTUAL Trek property.

      2. You’d think so, but I get the impression that Discovery pulled in mostly new blood behind the scenes (albeit with a Nichols Meyer type thrown in here or there), especially since the aesthetic is so indebted to the movies, not the TV shows.

  7. –> “20th-century pop culture-specific jokes”. Yeah, this bothers me almost more than anything else. Nearly every joke is a 20th century reference. Absolutely no reason for the crew to have literally no cultural references outside that.

    Farscape did that a lot, but it made sense because Crighten was actually snatched away from that culture.

    Reply

    1. “Farscape did that a lot, but it made sense because Crighten was actually snatched away from that culture.”

      And Guardians does it with Star-Lord, and there it also makes sense since he’s ultimately an 80s kid who got snatched away into space.

      Here, though, it’s just like that because it suits MacFarlane’s personal interests. To be fair, the pop culture on Star Trek has always been Earth-centric. Remember Picard’s horror upon learning Worf assumes Gilbert & Sullivan are two new crew members and not two famous composers in Insurrection, or all those old plays, jazz recitals, Sherlock Holmes mystery novel holodeck stuff with Data. But at least there was a range to it, not so completely tied to just a 40-60-year period.

      Reply

      1. Exactly — the range makes all the difference. And even if our few decades get a larger percent of the references, that could be explained by it being a pretty sweet few decades. We all have parts of history that resonate more with us than other parts. But when every single reference is about Friends and Avis and our top 40 musicians, it’s just one more thing that reminds us these are modern day actors on a stage and not characters in space centuries from now.

      2. The key to Next Gen’s pop culture references is that they seemed to come from a place of “If these things are still classics to us here in 1987 then they at least have a shot at still being classics centuries from now.” The Orville doesn’t really have that. MacFarlane is clearly a pop culture junkie. He just can’t help it, but his frame of reference is limited and it’s pretty instantly dating his TV show.

      3. Gosh. Things are going to seem really dated fast.

        I rewatch Pinky & The Brain and if I ever have kids, I know they’ll be scratching their heads or looking up Wikipedia for every reference to hasbeens such as Pauly Shore.

      4. Yeah…I’ve actually been through that near-exact experience. A couple years back I watched a fair bit of Pinky & The Brain with my nephew, and while he laughed at the obvious kid humor he was stone-faced in response to all the pop culture references even though I was over on my side of the couch laughing myself silly. I specifically remember the Winnie the Pool parody episode where Tigger is Mick Jagger, and I wanna say Forrest Gump also shows up at some point (if not there then in some other episode).

      5. That episode would hold up better than others. Jagger is still strutting away (which makes me think of that joke in Almost Famous by Jimmy Fallon). Al Gore has kept up with numerous more animated appearances in Futurama.

      6. And for those who haven’t seen the episode, Al Gore appears as a donkey. Pinky asks when the scene will begin animating because Gore is initially silent and still.

      7. And I’m suddenly flashing back to the sound of me laughing and the sound of my nephew asking, “Who is Al Gore?”

  8. –> “such as when Ed tries to cross his arms and realizes you can’t do that in the Krill armor.” Yep. Stupid on a couple of levels.

    1), this was a holographic image, so there should have been no physical barrier at all.

    2) it showed his incompetence, again. The moment it proved awkward, he should have stopped and did something else, not spend 30 seconds doing a Mr Bean bit.

    Reply

    1. “1), this was a holographic image, so there should have been no physical barrier at all.”

      That occurred to me, too. You’re right about it being, basically, a Mr. Bean bit.

      Reply

  9. The moment in the cafeteria did remind me of a moment in Star Trek V when McCoy, referring to Spock says something along the lines of, “With that Vulcan metabolism, you could probably feed him a bowl of termites and it wouldn’t bother him.”
    But yeah, the 20th century pop culture references are going to severely date the show very quickly.

    Reply

    1. “With that Vulcan metabolism, you could probably feed him a bowl of termites and it wouldn’t bother him.”

      Oh, good reference. Yeah, I shouldn’t come down too hard on that bit in the cafeteria, not when McCoy’s ongoing bickering with Spock occasionarly tettered into “old white man racist (or, I guess, speciest)” territory.

      Reply

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