Seth MacFarlane and ‘The Orville: New Horizons’ cast talk about the show’s return and defend woke sci-fi

Seth MacFarlane, Adrienne Palicki, and Penny Johnson Jerald share their thoughts about The Orville: New Horizons' dramatic Season 3 opener and explain why they aren't worried about their show being labeled "woke sci-fi" despite having confronted controversial social issues throughout its run.

Video transcript

- We're about to enter unexplored space. I know you're all just as excited as I am, so let's give this everything we got and may the force be with you.

ETHAN ALTER: I've had a chance to see the first and third episode, and I was really impressed. The first episode gets off to a really dramatic start. So tell me about that, opening the season with such a dramatic, kind of intense episode.

SETH MACFARLANE: Over the course of the series, we were really finding what it was that we wanted to be and the show was kind of telling us what it wanted to be. At the beginning, we were really striving for this balance between drama and comedy that, I think if you're doing a feature film, is a little easier because you have to invest the audience for an hour and a half and then you're done. They've had some laughs and they've seen an adventure, and they go home happy. With a television series, you're really invested in the reality of the stakes of these people.

So what we found was that the formula really worked best for us was the comedy should come from these characters personalities. And obviously, in a season three that's a lot easier because you know them at this point, and you're not educating your audience and trying to explain to them who these people. Are at the same time, you're trying to make them feel like they've been with them forever. It doesn't work.

So season three, we just said let's lean into the sci-fi stories. Let's tell the stories we want to tell. And let the comedy find us and find where it wants to pop out. And it really worked, I think. This is the season where I really feel like we found our tonal groove.

ETHAN ALTER: Penny, were you surprised when you saw the script that that's how they chose to start on with such a dramatic note.

PENNY JOHNSON JERALD: Not truly a surprise. I was actually happy because where did you go from that? How do you get Isaac back? I think that's where the intensity lies. Do you accept somebody back in your circle when they have just betrayed you? And so it couldn't be any other way. So it had to be that and the tone had to be that. Because that's just the real deal.

ADRIANNE PALICKI: Coming back with a bang is the way to do it. It's worth the four year wait. Do you know what I mean? It's going to immediately grab the audience. And every episode gets bigger and bigger and more and more intense.

- This is so racist, man. You're so friggin' racist.

- I am not. I have several gelatinous friends.

ETHAN ALTER: You did say goodbye to Norm MacDonald this year. I understand he finished recording his lines before he passed away. Was it hard, though, having his voice in your ear, other than these episodes, knowing you've lost him.

SETH MACFARLANE: As I finished the episodes, it's my-- the emotion that I feel, more than anything, is gratitude. That he left us with all this great stuff. I didn't realize how sick he was. He was very private about it. When I found out afterwards, I was very moved by the fact that he had continued to record for us and continued to play this part. As sad as it is, I'm happy that there's a little more norm yet to come through the Orville.

ETHAN ALTER: If you do come back for season four, have you thought about what you do with that character? Would you recast it or do you think you'd retire him?

SETH MACFARLANE: We do have a plan. Yeah, we would not we would not do Yaphet without Norm. But there is a plan to-- if we are lucky enough to do a season four, we do know exactly how we're going to handle that. It sounds like if the show does come back for a fourth season, there is a sense that there's a way that you're going to still have the character there without it necessarily being Norm. Can you say anything more about what your plans might be?

DAVID A. GOODMAN: I really can't because this is the first I'm hearing of it, so.

ETHAN ALTER: OK. All right, there we go. Now you know.

DAVID A. GOODMAN: It's good to know.

BRANNON BRAGA: How exciting, how exciting.

ETHAN ALTER: I'm not sure if you saw this Fox News posted an article about Star Trek and complain that Star Trek gotten too woke with its recent run of stories. I'm just thinking, like, are you afraid they're going to write that about Orville? Because Orville gets into some pretty serious stuff. How do you feel about being part of a show that's so political in that way?

PENNY JOHNSON JERALD: Oh my gosh, I could care less what Fox puts on about something being woke or broke or canceled or whatever. Sorry, I had to say that. I could care less. But I do-- if they're doing that, it doesn't make it less important for people. Because the subject matter that we touch on this season, you need to be part of that conversation. Because a lot of stuff is going down right now in life. And you're either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history. And if you don't know which side you're on, you at least have to be in the conversation so that you can choose. So we will present it to you so that you can choose.

ADRIANNE PALICKI: But I'm going to tell you this, we've been doing that from day one. So if they were going to write about that, they've missed their time. That's part of why Seth, I think, wrote this. He was like, this is a way to really get some really important topics across and not beat people over the heads with it, which is actually shocking because he can be pretty outspoken. But it's a very smart way of having conversations.

But we've been doing that from day one. They've just gotten more and more intense. And obviously, they're all different because we've been dealing with things happening in the moment in time. And sadly, there's a lot of intense, horrible things happening in the world right now that we address.

SETH MACFARLANE: I don't know. I mean, look. Fox News is Fox News. We all know what they are. Look, Star Trek has always been progressive. Was I watching a different show when I was watching the reruns of the original on TV? I mean, it is what it is. They were always breaking boundaries and asking audiences to question things that they were comfortable with in a conservative way. And yeah, I don't-- surprise, surprise. Fox News is a little out of touch.

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