The third season of The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation, arrives next week under the name The Orville: New Horizons. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to writer/executive producers (and Star Trek vets) Brannon Braga and David A. Goodman, along with director/executive producer Jon Cassar. The group discussed how the move to Hulu has opened up new possibilities, offered some hints on what’s coming to up in the ten-episode season, and discussed the possibility of a fourth season.
Note: A couple of episodes from New Horizons were provided to the media ahead of the interview and so there are some minor spoilers discussed.
David, in your last TrekMovie interview, you spoke about how you fulfilled a number of goals for the show in season two. So, what were the big goals for season three?
David Goodman: I think they were Seth’s goals, and I think that one of them was we’re moving to streaming. It was his decision to move to Hulu and he wanted to keep ratcheting up the epic storytelling. And I think that we’ve done that in season three. The episodes are more epic in scope. We’re building our universe, but we’re still focused on our characters. So we had those goals but we continue to tell the stories that The Orville fans are expecting, but then also make use of the fact that we’re on a streamer and that now an episode can be an hour, or even an hour and a half, and letting those stories that we are breaking breathe and let them go to their natural conclusions. And so that that was probably the biggest goal. It was a creative goal, and we have absolutely met it.
So episodes can actually run as long an hour and a half and you don’t bother doing it as two-parters anymore?
Brannon Braga: That’s right. I think one of them runs as long as one hour and twenty-five minutes. I actually hadn’t thought of that, but that’s a great observation that there aren’t any two-parters now. [laughs] They are all eighty to ninety-minute episodes.
Jon Cassar: If you add up all the runtimes, it is the equivalent of 16 episodes.
What other opportunities does the move to Hulu give you?
Jon Cassar: From my end, the time alone is huge. It’s not just the fact that you could do an hour and twenty-minute episode, it just means visually, you’re just in a different space the way you shoot a show. Because like a feature, it’s the same thing. A feature could be an hour and a half, it could be two hours, or three hours, whatever the story is. But the great thing about features that are so different than television is they have that visual time between scenes. So they have the time to do what we call “shoe leather,” where it’s just visually telling the story. And in our case, we use it when we go to a new planet. It used to be like one or two shots flying in. Now there’s five or six and you get to really see what this planet looks like. And that’s world-building. And that means even when we get there, you’re seeing way more than you saw before because we have time for it now. And even if you tried to do it on some TV shows, the words take priority. So when you’re trying to hit that 42-minute mark, you’re going to cut out this beautiful establishing shot, you’re not going to cut dialog. So that’s a big difference visually from what you’re going to see because of the freedom of time.
When the series debuted it leaned into the humor, even being presented as a sci-fi comedy. That changed a bit in season two and it appears to be evolving more in season three to be almost akin to your average Next Gen episode. So, is it not a dramedy anymore?
David Goodman: I would slightly disagree because I think our characters are funnier than the TNG characters. In comparison to previous seasons of The Orville, I agree. We’re not leaning as hard on the comedy as we used to. But this show still has plenty more comedy than the standard TNG episode did. And I think it’s because our characters are more flawed. In some ways, they are more down-to-earth. They’re less heroic naturally than the TNG characters. And so the conflicts that they get into end up being sometimes more humorous. So I agree that we’re not leaning into the comedy, but this is still not a standard sci-fi show. We still have plenty of character comedy, it just comes out more naturally than it used to.
The first episode gets a bit dark, so does it vary a lot episode by episode, with some being much lighter?
David Goodman: Any episode where Gordon is the center of the story is probably going to be funnier, but actually there are definitely moments with all of our characters where we get funny. But it’s probably not the full-on comedy episodes that we used to have.
Brannon Braga: There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this season. And there are episodes that have more humor than others. The first episode out of the gate deals with some pretty hardcore subject matter. And we’re happy that we were able to take our time with it and do it properly. But on this show, the comedy has never undermined the drama, because we want the stakes to be real. And it took us a while to find the tone and I think we’ve come a long way since the first season. And now it does lean more into the drama of it all, and I think always Seth’s intention.
Have you changed your balance when it comes to the episodic structure and serialization for the new season? Because the first episode did catch up on some things from season two, for example. But is the focus still planet of the week?
David Goodman: I think that even if you came to The Orville: New Horizons fresh and you had never seen The Orville, you can watch the first episode because it’s important for us to be clear. It’s not a fully serialized show in that sense. You can watch that first episode having never seen The Orville and understand what’s going on and not feel left out. So this is never going to be a fully serialized show. On a fully serialized show, you can’t watch the first episode of season three without having watched every episode of seasons one and two. So we still do planet of the week, but we also put things in that are for those fans who’ve been watching all the way through. It is a balance.
David Goodman: But we included flashbacks so if you had not seen [the season two episode] “Identity,” you are you have characters telling you what happened. And as an audience member, you’re getting to experience it.
Now that you are on Hulu, were there things you did this season that you always wanted to do, things that could only be done with the freedom you now have?
Brannon Braga: It was exciting to break out these stories–and we weren’t really thinking of the impact on Jon at that point [laughs]–with abandon. The freedom in terms of their scope, but it’s also a very emotional season. The show, I think, has always been successful in being quite moving at times. And we really care about these characters. And we think the audience will too. It’s epic in its emotional scope as well as its cinematic scope.
Is it fair to say that the character conflict is heightened this season?
Brannon Braga: It is heightened. As we were saying, everything is heightened, on every level. The addition of the Charly character [Anne Winters] is indicative. She’s there because she suffered a traumatic loss and is angry about a Kaylon on board. That’s going to give you immediate conflict. That’s part of the reason that character was created by Seth.
Jon Cassar: I think you guys set up right away that the people on the ship were polarized. It was just not okay with everybody. So that made it interesting. And again, probably realistic in that kind of scenario. Especially with a Kaylon still on board.
Another core component of the show has been social commentary. Any hints on issues you might be dealing with New Horizons?
David Goodman: The Moclans still end up being the source for those kinds of commentaries. They’re representative of a bunch of things that we’ve talked about over the years, and they still are. It’s more about using the tools in our toolbox and our characters, and what are those issues that affect our characters? And then we can get into sort of metaphorical or allegorical stories that might touch on current issues, but I don’t know that we’re going to spoil any of that.
Speaking of spoilers, any chance we’re going to get any more Star Trek actor cameos?
David Goodman: Let me think, I can’t remember. We have a lot of great cameos this year. One, in particular, is not a Star Trek cameo, but cameos are a big, big part of the show. I think there are some fun surprises in these episodes
Jon Cassar: We do have one big cameo from a big sci-fi franchise.
Are you talking about Bruce Boxleitner from Babylon 5?
Jon Cassar: You guys know that because you saw him in the picture they released, so that’s not much of a surprise. [laughs] But that’s not the big cameo we are talking about.
David Goodman: It’s even bigger.
Jon Cassar: Way bigger.
I know this is a tough subject but how did you deal with the death of Norm Macdonald? Was he able to finish his voice work for the season?
David Goodman: Norm did, he had finished his recording. Obviously, we’re heartbroken at his death. It was an honor to get to work with him. He is one of my comedy heroes and such a brilliantly funny, man and such a delight to work with on the show. He added so much to Yaphit’s character. If there is a season four, I don’t know how we deal with it, I’ll be honest.
There has been some speculation about season four. What would you say are the factors needed to make another season possible?
David Goodman: Okay, so let me just let me just pull this little anecdote out of my ass. There was a show I worked on that was canceled twice. They said it would never come back. But the audience found it on DVD and three years later, it came back. That show was Family Guy. Every show can come back. It’s all up to the audience. 20 Century Fox at that time didn’t think anybody was watching on the network and they cancelled it and the fans were like, “We want more!” And so the company said, “We’ll give you more.” It’s all about business. So if the fans and the audience shows up on Hulu, they’re absolutely can be a season four.
Just to be clear, the show isn’t currently canceled.
David Goodman: The show is absolutely not canceled.
Jon Cassar: Definitely not.
David Goodman: Absolutely not. That is definitive.
New Horizons next Thursday
The Orville: New Horizons premieres Thursday, June 2, 2022. New episodes will be released weekly only on Hulu in the USA. Internationally The Orville is also on Star on Disney+ in select markets.
Check out the recent trailer…
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