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.
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
- 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.
- Nice little bit of genre comedy there, the whole business with Ed speaking before Alara had finished opening the hailing channel.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “Go play in traffic” – Funny? Or classic MacFarlane shoving in a quick, mean-spirited joke to undercut sentiment?
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.