There’s Nothing Easy About Dating in Space in ‘The Orville’ Season 2

Having crushes and pining for your ex don’t get any easier in space. “The Orville” begins its second season with romantic dilemmas we’ve seen many times before in sitcoms, but still pulled off with enjoyable, campy humor. Once again director and creator Seth MacFarlane blends his particular brand of comedy with a loving homage to all things “Star Trek.” Because the rehashed jokes are used here to play around with the whole classic sci-fi look of Trekkie world, the show retains its own kind of charm. At least audiences get it. When “The Orville” premiered last year it was liked more by audiences than by critics, maybe because it’s a fanboy product that appeals to many viewers’ memories even as it makes us laugh.

As Captain of the Orville Ed Mercer (McFarlane) still deals with lingering feelings for his ex and current first officer Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), some interesting news comes around. It turns out that it is time for Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) to urinate. Bortus is a Moclan, a species that only answers the call of nature once a year, turning it into a special ritual where friends are invited. Naturally, Bortus would like his Orville crewmates to witness his release. Additionally there will be a big party and if you don’t bring a date then it is considered bad luck. This sets off a chain of romantic dramas. Kelly feels this is a chance to let Ed know she’s seeing someone, Cassius (Chris Johnson), a school teacher onboard the ship. Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) suddenly has a crush on the crew’s new dark matter cartographer, Lt. Tyler (Michaela McManus). But as he puts it, Gordon has no game, so he seeks help from Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J.Lee). Then there’s Lt. Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), also a failure in love. To help her out Bortus tries to set her up with crew member Dan (Mike Henry), a rather large-headed alien who writes awful poetry on the side.

McFarlane has crafted “The Orville” into something of a light dessert for your evening TV viewing. As with the first season, the more you remember shows like “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” the more you appreciate the satire meets late night sitcom tone. Everything from the epic opening credits, with the camera panning over a CGI Orville in space, to the nostalgic production design serve as a cheerful take on the “Star Trek” aesthetic. But the show is also its own thing, with the humor being pure McFarlane. Yet he doesn’t push too far and even the whole bit of Bortus having to pee is family friendly goof. The season premiere also has a storyline where Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) has to deal with son Marcus (BJ Tanner) running around with a new friend, James (Jake Brennan) who knows how to manipulate the ship’s computer to snag some easy vodka. Moments like this are an example of why “The Orville” can be great fun in the way it recycles old ideas for mischievous comedy. The vodka-chugging kids are found in a simulator and Isaac (Mark Jackson) , Claire’s analytical robot, needs to have puberty explained to him. His answer is to just make Marcus drink until he doesn’t like it anymore.

The romance is also filtered through the whole “Star Trek” wormhole with simple but funny writing by McFarlane. Ed becomes a total, rejected dude and spies on Kelly while she’s alone with Cassius then insists to her that he still loves her. But when Ed meets Cassius he can’t help but like the guy and offers tips for keeping Kelly happy, like playing Journey. But many of the best lines belong to Bortus, who is the show’s equivalent of a Klingon, telling Alara he can order Dan to mate with her. Alara’s actual date with Dan is a sci-fi take on hilarious awkwardness as he reads her a poem, asks for her opinion and she bluntly has tell him it stinks. Gordon and LaMarr have some memorable scenes too. LeMarr takes Gordon into a simulation designed for practicing pick-up lines that is not only funny but ironically makes total sense if you take the logic of such technology seriously. While “Star Trek” in its various incarnations is brilliant, it still has a tendency of taking itself a bit too seriously. “The Orville” renders tribute while finding the smile behind the vision.

By the time Bortus conducts his ritual and the party begins (to the tune of “AsTime Goes By” from “Casablanca”), Dan finds that Gordon appreciates his poetry (but chickened out on approaching Tyler), there seems to be peace between Ed and Kelly, but someone new happens to sit next to the captain at the bar. “The Orville” is not exactly rocket science, but it’s a fun crew to hang out with.

The Orville” season two premieres Dec. 30 and airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.