Review: ‘The Orville’ Season Two Premiere “Ja’loja” Comes Up A Bit Dry

REVIEW: “Ja’loja”

The Orville Season 2, Episode 1 – Aired Sunday, December 30

Written & Directed by Seth MacFarlane

During the hiatus between the first two seasons of the original Star Trek series, fans began to hear rumors that the Enterprise would visit Spock’s home planet of Vulcan during the upcoming season, something they had been eagerly wondering about. As the second season opener, writer Theodore Sturgeon and director Joseph Pevney delivered “Amok Time,” a classic episode that explored Spock’s heritage, introducing us to T’Pau, T’Pring, Stonn, the concept of pon farr, and koon-ut-kal-if-fee. Spock’s madness led him to kill his best friend, and it was only quick thinking on the part of Dr. McCoy that kept the entire incident from becoming a tragedy.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of FOX’s The Orville and this episode’s writer and director, tips his hat to Sturgeon by having the show’s titular ship return to Lt. Bortus’ home world of Moclus to participate in a primal ritual involving a basic biological function. But whereas “Amok Time” centered around a deeply meaningful and profound event – the choosing of a mate – “Ja’loja” centers around a throwaway joke from the first season, the idea that Moclans urinate only once a year. In the process, The Orville’s second season opener brings together what are essentially five “B-stories” that give us a quiet glimpse into the lives of its characters, but no sense of meaning, mystery, or adventure.

Blesson Watson, Chad L. Coleman and Peter Macon in “Ja’loja”

FIVE STORIES

The five interweaving character tales include some progress in the relationship between divorced spouses Captain Ed Mercer and First Officer Kelly Grayson, a date between Security Officer Alara Kitan and Crewman Dann, an exploration of Lt. Gordon Malloy’s lack of “game” when it comes to women, a parenting challenge for Dr. Claire Finn and Isaac, and of course the framing story of Bortus and his Ja’loja. Only two of these five stories are very interesting or important to the life of the show, though each has a few fun moments. 

When we left season one, Ed and Kelly had come close to reigniting their romance, but circumstances and duties pushed them apart. Here at the start of the second season, we find that Ed still loves Kelly, but she has begun to date someone else, the ship’s school teacher, Cassius. Captain Mercer signs out a shuttle and does a “drive-by” outside Kelly’s window while she and Cassius are kissing, and Cassius’ equanimity and desire to give Ed the benefit of the doubt briefly pulls the two of them apart. Cassius is able to restore things only with the help of Ed’s better knowledge of Kelly’s preferences. Chris Johnson’s performance as Cassius is excellent, giving us a character we can sympathize with, and whom we can see Kelly gravitating towards. This plotline also gives us the one true personality conflict of the episode, as Ed and Kelly both have valid points of view on the viability of a relationship between a Captain and his First Officer. Kudos to MacFarlane for writing a crisp, interesting argument between the two characters in an early scene and reprised later on that lets us see the issue from both perspectives. 

Adrianne Palicki and Seth MacFarlane in “Ja’loja”

The other storyline that gets a good bit of screen time and seems to move the characters forward involves Dr. Claire Finn and her difficulties parenting her teenaged son, Marcus. Marcus has been hanging out with James, a bit of a trouble-maker who has convinced his parents that he’s an angel. As the two clown around in class and hack a food synthesizer to make vodka, they incur the wrath of Dr. Finn, and fascinate AI crew member Isaac. The situation brings Dr. Finn and Isaac closer together, and features some of the funnier dialogue in the episode. There are hints that Dr. Finn may feel romantically drawn to Isaac, though because he is an emotionless robotic being, he does not return her feelings. This may make for some interesting stuff down the line.

THE ORVILLE: L-R: Mark Jackson and Penny Johnson Jerald in “Ja’loja”

The brief date between Lt. Kitan and Dann amounts to virtually nothing. Dann’s poetry is meant to be a hoot, but merits only a yawn, and the only thing interesting about it is that Gordon finds the poetry fascinating.

Gordon’s quest to get help with his dating prowess so he can muster the courage to ask out new character Lt. Janel Tyler (a strangely uncredited Michaela McManus) contains some funny exchanges between Malloy and Lt. Cmdr. John Lamarr, but in the end tells us nothing new about either character and amounts to nothing more than a swing and a miss.

J Lee and Scott Grimes in  “Ja’loja”

Perhaps most crushingly, MacFarlane – the writer of this episode, chooses to make Bortus’ Ja’loja – after which the episode is titled – into nothing more than a framing device and a setup for a few piss jokes. As a result, the episode suffers from the connection to Sturgeon’s “Amok Time,” rather than being enriched by it. There is no deeper point to the Ja’loja, Bortus is barely in the episode, and neither the build-up nor the ceremony adds anything to any of the other storylines. The episode is essentially four quiet character stories wrapped in an extended urination joke.

Overall, the four character stories are each nice little bits, and each of them would have worked as the B-story in an adventure-themed episode, but bunched together they form a strangely subdued and quiet start to The Orville‘s sophomore season. “Amok Time” started off Trek’s second year with a bang of intrigue, pathos, and adventure. In contrast, “Ja’loja” is an episode I would have described as a “change-of-pace” later in an action-packed season. Placed here at the beginning of this run of stories, it has no pace to change from. It gives us little indication of the direction of this second season, and feels like very little reward for returning from the between-season break. It’s not a bad episode, but it feels like it should have come a few weeks down the road.

The planet Moclas in  “Ja’loja”

BRIEF BITS:

  • The episode features Seinfeld star and well known celebrity Trekkie Jason Alexander inside a latex gecko head as bartender Olix, recognizable only by his distinctive voice. Alexander’s guest role was teased by star J. Lee on Instagram last March, showing him in makeup and only referring to him as a “legend.”
  • “Bortus, if you need the time to make any preparations, feel free to relieve yourself.” – Ed Mercer, failing to avoid the pee joke
  • “A woman can’t really love a man unless he’s part dope. Be a little stupid every day, and really stupid once in a while, but just don’t be perfect.” – Ed Mercer, offering excellent relationship advice to Cassius
  • “There is a young officer under my command who I have noticed also has no mate. If you wish, I will order him to mate with you. I have no reason to doubt his seed is fertile.” – Bortus to Alara
  • “Always go with one more zipper than you’re comfortable with.” – Lamarr offering dating fashion tips to Malloy
  • “My anthropological studies have revealed many different methods of discipline employed throughout human history. Perhaps compulsory consumption of further quantities of alcohol would diminish his desire for the substance.” – Isaac on disciplining children
  • Xeleyans don’t have livers
  • Lt. Tyler is a Dark Matter Cartographer, which will presumably become important later on in the season
  • Kelly has been seeing Cassius for about a month
  • We see Outpost 58 in some gorgeous FX shots
  • “Bortus ate my homework” is apparently a cliched excuse in the Orville’s classroom
  • The Orville has a restaurant called “Mooskas” on board with Mad TV veteran Will Sasso playing Mooska

Outpost 58

Jason Alexander as Orville’s new bartender

Will Sasso as Mooska

 


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kitbashcanon

I loved this episode and wouldn’t change a thing about it. Just love the “time for the annual urination ritual” theme.

Agreed. It was a lot of fun! I don’t know why so many people didn’t like it. It’s such an Orville storyline: they have to pull over the ship because Bortus has to pee! It’s a comedy, people!

Actually, I did think the Claire/Issac storyline was one of the weaker ones. It seems to be suggesting that, as a single parent, Claire is somehow “lacking” in her parental skills and needs a co-parent to help her through. Seems to be pretty archaic to me.

The rest of the episode was perfect! I love Gordon’s jacket! So many zippers!!!

ML31

“It’s a comedy, people!”

Exactly the point. In a comedy it needs jokes. There were attempts but nearly all of them missed.

kmart

Might have been funny is he had to piss into space instead of wizzing off a cliff, and we found the urine was like the blood in ALIEN, that it ate through the hull of a passing Krill cruiser and started a new war.

kitbashcanon

like the idea. opens up a category of stories about the qualities of alien piss, some lethal, some with potent medicinal qualities, some guaranteed to make you pass a piss test, etc…

Jeff

Now that would have been funny and surprising! But then if the show was written like that, it would be a lot better. Instead, we get a wanna-be TNG.

Marja

I do think the still of Bortus on the edge is funny, because it looks like it could be set on Vulcan

Guess it’s time to sign up for Hulu again

kmart

Then perhaps it’s not too late … Climb the steps of Mt. Seleya … just be careful not to slip on those urine soaked rocks, it’s a long way down.

Q__

Yes, it was absurdist humor in tradition of Northern Exposure’s “Burning Down the House”, Hill Street Blues’ “Oh, You Kid” and some episodes of M.A.S.H.

slider

In space no one can see you pee…

Curious Cadet

This episode was almost unwatchable. I can’t believe anyone thought it was a good idea to lead with it as the premiere episode of the season. The only rationale I can imagine is that they thought because of the holidays, no one would be watching when they burned this one off.

ML31

While I agree this was arguably the weakest episode yet, FOX premiered it after their Sunday NFL games. (It was even shown early on the west coast and repeated later that night) Hardly a position to “burn off” an episode.

MattR

It definitely wasn’t meant as a burn off episode. I do think that they switched the episodes around because the Bortas-addiction episode would have probably turned off some viewers giving the show a sampling after the NFL game.

Q___

“This episode was almost unwatchable.”

I agree to disagree… It was episode in best Piller filler tradition.

Gary

Were we supposed to see Bortus urinating off the cliff? Or is just implied? I didn’t see him urinating, so the joke didn’t pay off for me.

Curious Cadet

@Gary — I agree. It was much ado about nothing. It didn’t work either metaphorically, or practically. Frankly, as sophomoric as was the premise, it was the only thing keeping me tuned-in for the end. I blame some of it on the network censors, as this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this issue in my business. Since it airs in the family time slot, there might of been limitations on both showing a water stream, implied as urine, or hearing one. I recall working on a major TV series with a scene that took place at a urinal, and we were not allowed to mix one Sfx that could even be remotely construed to be water.

kitbashcanon

Must take awhile to achieve “release”, after having been “on hold” for a year. New phrase: “he can hold his water like a Moclan”.

slider

A scene like that probably would have lasted as long as that scene from the first Austin Powers movie.

Gary

I’m answering my own question. According to http://collider.com/the-orville-season-2-scott-grimes-interview/

“… What you didn’t get to see, ‘cause they edited it out, was that he continues and you actually hear him pee. Bortus just went to town and made all these pee noises. Imagine how good it would feel, after a year. It was hilarious. …”

So it does look like they cut stuff which made the ending not work.

That_Janitor

I felt that scene actually worked. I kept expecting some piss gag, such as him peeing like a firehose or the people watching cracking up at the situation.

But during the panning shot of the crew members being there with him and the ritualistic chants, the crew (and thus the show) seems to take this seriously. It’s a weird, harmless, alien tradition and they played it straight.

So it wasn’t leading up to a joke, but rather the subversion of a joke. That it’s serious for Bortus’ people, thus it should be taken serious by the crew once the initial jokes are over. That’s a twist, and a good one that I wasn’t expecting at all.

Apparently this was cut this way through editing, so the editors are trying to be smarter than the writers or something.

From what I remember reading, Seth said the intention of the episode was to not jump into an involved story first thing, but to reacquaint us with the characters again after being off for a year. From that angle, worked fine for me, and was a fun, smaller episode.

Next week’s gets back into it quite nicely.

ML31

As said before, this was an episode that was in desperate need of more jokes. There were one or two that landed but most failed.

I agree with the reviewer. Any one of these stories (save the Mercer one) would have provided a sub par to fair B story. But still, they needed to punch up the jokes. This was not a good episode to start the season with. The next episode proved to be better.

Q__

“this was an episode that was in desperate need of more jokes”

Not really… The dramedy isn’t a comedy.

ML31

Except the drama wasn’t working. In this show, it is rare when the drama works. It’s much better, and this is becoming a broken record, when the comedy is played up and the drama only appears intermittently.

Who cares

Here are a few things the reviewer is missing.

As a single parent I relate to Dr. Finn and the self doubt that crops up sometimes and the feeling of being outnumbered in these kinds of conflicts.

As a man divorced twice I relate to Ed in both the desire to not let go of someone he still loves and the realization that the other man is an alright guy and your ex deserves happiness.

Like Gordon and Alara I have terminally bad game and my dating history is rough.

Finally, as a Lakota I relate to Bortas in inviting your friends and colleagues to participate in an important cultural ceremony that others do not grasp the solemnity of and some feel its ok to ridicule.

Frankly, I related to nearly everyone on one level or another, no episode of Trek, in any series, has ever done that for me.

Denes House

I’m glad you found a lot to relate to in this episode! Around TrekMovie.com, the staff is fond of saying, “every episode is somebody’s favorite,” and that’s cool. I can only review it from my point of view. Thanks for expressing yours!

stuff

I’m glad all these unimaginatively overused tropes and cliches spoke so deeply to you.

Who cares

They arent tropes, its my real life.

Scott Gammans

I don’t think there is anything unusual about Michaela McManus not being credited. Quite the contrary — I think that the producers are trying not to call attention to the fact that she’s the same actress who played the Krill schoolteacher last season. In another thread, one of the commenters speculated that Lt. Tyler would eventually be revealed as a disguised Krill spy. At the time I dismissed that theory out of hand. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe she will be revealed as a twin of the schoolteacher character.

Marja

OMG a Lt. Tyler who’s a spy! Imagine that!

UpsideDownTurtle

To be honest, I found Kelley’s argument kind of silly. If she is genuinely concerned that Ed can’t be objective with regards to her, then the solution is to leave the ship. He has already made it clear that he loves her, which means given a conflict he will always take her side. If anything, her staying on, and “getting on” with her life would in normal cases only lead to resentment.

I agree that the episode was a bit flat overall, and especially for a premiere. If I were a new viewer tuning in for the first time, I would wonder what the fuss was about and might not come back. If all of the storylines planted seeds which will pay off later in season 2, then maybe I’ll look back on this episode differently.

Cygnus-X1

I enjoyed this one. The quality of storytelling is substantially improved from Season 1. The humor worked as did the relationship theme. The performances were all solid. It’s not clear to me how this episode came up “a bit dry.”

Finnegan

The episode was weak. The show is losing appeal. The dynamic of Ed and Kelly being divorced and on again off again is already old and uninteresting. I could care less about the doctor’s spoiled brats. The other characters are either buffoons or dull and very predictable. No thanks. If this doesn’t last beyond season 2 it will not be a surprise.

slider

I kind of get the impression they should of opened with a more action packed story?

Numenosium

Ugh. I keep looking at articles & images from this series and cannot get around the cheap look, the less than stellar make-up and the juvenile humor. I was not impressed with the episode(s) I saw so far.

Who cares

TOS must really disappoint you since everything on The Orville is light years beyond what TOS ever did in terms of makeup, sets, effects, and jokes.