The second season of The Orville concluded last week with the time-bending episode “The Road Not Taken.” TrekMovie had a chance to talk to executive producer David A. Goodman, who wrote the episode, about the finale, the second season in general, and what’s next for the show. We also talked a bit about Star Trek as Goodman is a former writer/producer on Star Trek: Enterprise and he has also written a number of Star Trek books.
What goals did you have going into the season that you feel the second season of The Orville achieved?
We had a couple of goals at the beginning of the year. Seth [MacFarlane] really felt strongly – and we all agreed – that even though Seth’s brand is comedy, people who tuned in to this show were okay with this show being serious. There were obviously light character moments throughout, but we definitely went away from the harder-edged humor. There are always comedic elements of humor in our show. There is always strong character comedy in the show and how people relate. But now, we really felt that this show lives in the space of doing serious drama and serious issues with this light touch in it, but that we don’t need to lean into the comedy as heavily as we might have earlier in the first season.
The other big takeaway after the first season was that we set up this universe, it is our own universe, and people like to play in that universe. People like to have continuity from one episode to the next and build out our alien species. So, for instance, we went back to the Moclans a couple of times this season and really explored stuff that we started early in season one. And we got to see our Union Council chamber and our Union president and built out the admirals. We had these great guest star admirals: Ted Danson, Ron Canada, Kelly Hu, and of course Victor Garber, who has been our central admiral. This season really filled in the details of our universe.
And then it was really getting into nuts and bolts of where our characters really lived. So, Ed and Kelly and making sure we kept that central dynamic fresh and alive and fun and interesting. So, we have Kelly with a boyfriend and Ed dating younger Kelly. That was what I think fans and what we as writers really enjoy about these characters. We also felt like Gordon needed more screen time this year. We really didn’t give him his own episode last year, so Scott [Grimes] got two really big episodes and he is a terrific actor and that character is so much fun. And I think the Claire/Isaac relationship was something we started talking about at the beginning of the season and we wanted it to play out the way it did and we were so happy getting to watch Mark Jackson and Penny [Johnson] act with each other, and her boys, who are both such terrific child actors. In all of that way, we are filling in the details of our universe both in a broad sense and in a small sense.
One of Seth’s stated goals for this show was for a more traditional episodic show. As you noted, the second season started doing more connections, including two two-part episodes, like the Kaylon one after which Isaac just seems to be reintegrated into the crew with little follow-up. Is there a struggle to keep the balance of being episodic but have some serialization as you delve into the mythology?
Yeah, that is the balance we are trying to strike. Like even with the Kaylon two-parter, those could have been your first two episodes and everything established in there. That two-parter works for people who have never seen the show before and for those who are fans. There is stuff in there for both. That is the balance we as writers take very seriously. We feel like you could start watching this show with any episode. You don’t have to go back to the beginning. If you do, you will see stuff in there as you watch all the way through. But if you just turned on an episode, our goal is to make sure people who are new aren’t confused. And that is a more traditional way to do a show and it works for us.
But it raises an interesting point. Are there going to be repercussions for what Isaac did? We didn’t do any repercussions in season two, so that is a question for season three.
As a Star Trek fan as you watch The Orville, you can often be reminded of past episodes. Like TNG’s “Second Chances” with the penultimate episode of this season or “Yesterday’s Enterprise” with your season finale. Do these parallels with Trek and other sci-fi come up in the writers’ room?
For us, we are all science fiction fans. We consume it all. So, the Kelly double story is similar in some ways to a Next Gen episode, but it is similar to a lot of sci-fi episodes. So we are inspired by everything that we have watched and read but we definitely always see it through the lens of our own show. What is it about our characters and what is it illuminating? So, the idea of Ed dating a younger version of his ex-wife, that is completely fresh. Nobody has done that before. And suddenly realizing that this isn’t what he really wants, is a completely fresh take on that story that has been done in numerous other sci-fi franchises and books and what have you. That is our goal. We are inspired by what we have seen and read, but then what is it about our show?
So with the finale which I wrote, we were breaking the story about Ed and Kelly and Kelly’s young version coming through time. And we were trying to figure out how to end it so that it wasn’t just a reset. We were not originally planning that as a two-parter. We had that fun idea of Ed dating a younger version of Kelly, but we then figured we had to send her back. The story just didn’t seem to work if we didn’t send her back and we came up with that idea of “You did send me back, that is why I don’t have a memory of this.” That was a great turning point in the story break when we realized it was going to work because she didn’t remember any of it.
But we couldn’t figure out an ending that didn’t feel like a reset, so somebody brought up the idea of what if she goes back but does not go out with Ed. I started thinking that would mean Ed wouldn’t get the Orville, and that means Claire wouldn’t be on the Orville and that means that Marcus and Ty wouldn’t become friends with Isaac and that means the Kaylon would have won. So what I just pitched happened in around five minutes and Seth realized right then, there is your season finale, this big adventure story taking place in this alternative timeline. And it is all because Ed and Kelly didn’t go on a second date. And that again is our show. It gets back to the thematic beginning of our show which is Ed and Kelly, ex-husband and ex-wife. He gets command of a ship because of her. If that ended up being our last episode, it ties our two seasons together in this beautiful way. And that is how it all happens.
So, was this going to be an earlier episode, but you moved it all to the end?
I think it was an earlier episode. It was our intent to have the dual Kelly episode earlier in the season and when we figured out how we wanted to end it, we realized this was the season finale.
The parallels with TNG and The Orville are obvious and, according to Seth, by design. What are the goals of the show that you feel are not part of that model?
I think our characters are more flawed than the Next Generation characters. We embrace that society has become much better, but people haven’t necessarily. They are still jealous; they still get pissed off. One of my favorite scenes is in the season premiere where Ed steals a shuttle and spies on Kelly with her new boyfriend, which was Seth’s idea. To me, that is great. This captain on this ship borrowing a shuttlecraft to spy on his ex-wife while she is making out with her boyfriend. That is not something you would ever see Captain Picard do. [laughs]
And, we are really seeing Moclans being part of the Union causes difficulties for us and raises a lot of interesting issues this season especially which is really cool. With this Moclan society, we are criticizing it. It is flawed and has some parallels to contemporary issues. So, I think the flaws in the characters really separate us out and that gives us our humor too. Gordon is a hugely talented helmsman, but he is a goof-off. Alara in season one is this strong girl who is sort of lovelorn and had this weird relationship with her family we see in season two. And we have bigotry, like Klyden in season two. And Klyden’s difficulties with his relationship with Bortus is not something we saw in Next Gen. It is the flaws in our characters that separates us.
Something that was brought up by our reviewer was how typically on Star Trek, the destiny of a captain is to be in that chair. The season finale posited that without Kelly, Ed had a command position but not a ship. Is Ed’s destiny to be a captain? Is there some unique quality of his that makes him a great captain? Or is there something here where he is only at his best when he is with Kelly and this group of people?
That is up to the audience to decide. We have shown Ed to be a really good captain. He is flawed, but he is a really good captain. What is destiny? If you say he is only a captain because of Kelly, then was it destiny that he ends up with Kelly so she helps him fulfill his destiny to become captain? When does somebody get to be their fullest in a job and in their life? Usually, they are not doing it alone. They are doing it with the support of friends and family and colleagues. That might be more of our point, that this is a real family and this is Ed’s family. And even in this alternative timeline, we showed Ed with an enormous amount of capability escaping from the Kaylon from the beginning. He has survived the Kaylon takeover of the galaxy, which says something about him as well. There are lots of things that tell us that Ed is a hero in the true sense. He is flawed, but he is a captain in the greatest tradition. But we are also maybe emphasizing the family aspect.
Just as a bit of clarification for the final moments of the finale, as soon as the alternative Finn vanished in the past, the timeline was reset, and all is back to normal in the future?
Yeah. I heard someone raise the possibility that Kelly says yes to a second date because she knows what is going to happen, but the Kelly that has gone back is the Kelly from the previous episode. She never saw the alternate timeline. So yes, the intent was Claire succeeded. The memory wipe worked, and all is back to what it was.
Can you say anything about if there is going to be a third season?
We have not got an official pick-up yet, but we are beginning talks. I’m optimistic, but I don’t have the final, official word yet. I think the show has been doing well for them. The studio loves the show. It sells well in foreign sales. So, I am optimistic, but as I often say in this business it is nothing until it is something.
One cool surprise for your episode was the reappearance of Halston Sage as Alara. Should we read anything into that if there is a season three?
Halston is a friend of the show. We love her and would definitely want to figure out ways that she can come back. I don’t think she is coming back as a regular. But, we love that character and we love her and so if there is an opportunity to bring her back story-wise, I think she would be open to it and we would love to have her back.
We started talking about your goals for season two. Any early thoughts on season three and any possible changes in the balance of humor and drama, episodic and serialization, etc?
I think the format of the show is not going to change. We are still going to be doing standalone episodes. However, now we have shown that we can do a deeper dive in the Union, into the aliens, into our characters. So, we will continue that build. I don’t the show becomes more serialized, but I do think we start to now expect that our fanbase wants us to take more of a leap to an expectation that people know what is going on in our universe. But again, it is really important for us for the show to stick to the format, which is you turn on the show and the story starts in the teaser you don’t want anybody confused who has never seen the show before. That is always a goal for us. We don’t want to alienate any new audience member.
You are also working on the new Orville comics, which are telling stories set between the first two seasons. Are these the kinds of stories that would fit as typical Orville episodes, or are you telling stories that you couldn’t tell on the show?
It is somewhere in between. I had never written comics before, so there was a bit of a learning curve as I tried to figure out what is a comic book story. I think it is different. The requirements are different on a comic book story than an episode of television. I think there needs a little more action. You are not going to have scenes where people are talking for page upon page, the way we do in our television episodes, like Kelly and Finn having a long conversation about relationships. That is something that works when you have Adrianne Palicki and Penny Johnson sitting in a room, it is not just the dialog and the direction, you have two actresses you can’t take your eyes off of. In a comic book where it is just sequential art, and that changes the kind of stories you can have.
In issue one you are going to see some aliens that we would never do on the show. They would be too expensive to pull off well, but they work in a comic book. Each story is told over two issues and I am trying to find a simple idea to build the stories on that inform a few of our characters. They are not stories that would necessarily make great television episodes, but I think they work well as comic books. They are filled with the same kind of ideas that we would do on the show.
Do the comics tie in to specific episodes from season one or season two?
Yeah, just in the first four. There is stuff in the first couple of issues that explain some things, answering questions people may have had at the beginning of season two. And then in issues three and four there is definitely a tie-in to a season one episode and a season two episode, sort of bridging two episodes and tells its own story. Technically they are canon because I am writing them. But if in season three we start to break a story that contradicts something I said in the comic books, the comic book is not going take precedence. The television show always takes precedence.
You mention the word canon. As you guys have been building a canon, do you talk about that in the writers’ room?
We don’t use the word canon. That is probably the first time I used it, in talking about the comic book. But, we really do pay attention to what we have done before. For instance, in season one because we wrote all of our shows before we started shooting, we had a great deal of flexibility. So, in the pilot, Seth wrote we introduce the Krill. Then in episode six, which I wrote, where we reveal that the Krill can’t be exposed to light. So, then we went back to the pilot, which had not been shot yet, and made sure that when they were out in the light the Krill were wearing helmets. That is just one example of how we are really paying attention to this stuff to make sure it all tracks. We are building stories on what we did before. For instance, the character Haveena was introduced in the season one Moclan episode “About A Girl.” We come back to her in season two on the Moclan colony that has all female Moclans in it [“Sanctuary”]. It is not a slavishness to continuity, but it is a respect for it and a respect for the audience wanting that kind of continuity and wanting to feel we have thought all this through and are being consistent.
With Star Trek, I feel the reason it survived and had such an attraction to fans, is that even though the episodes were standalone, it was clear whoever was making sure of this – whether it was de Forest Research or Gene Coon or Gene Roddenberry himself – they were making sure each episode fit in the universe. Warp speed was consistent in every episode. The Federation and Starfleet Command were consistent. There was a way in which this world exists. That is the same thing in Buffy and Firefly and Game of Thrones and any of the shows with huge fanbases in a fantasy world is the way that feels like this world exists and that the creators are respecting the audience’s memory. If we reference something it is going to be consistent and it establishes the world for the audience to play in.
Keep up with all the The Orville news, reviews and interviews at TrekMovie.com.