‘The Orville: New Horizons’ at SDCC 2022: Cast and creators celebrate season 3’s expanded storytelling, confirm desire to continue if there is demand

The Orville touched down in San Diego this weekend for the first time since moving to their new home on Hulu. Subjectify sat down with the cast and EPs of The Orville: New Horizons at SDCC 2022 to discuss their time aboard the weirdest ship in the fleet before the crew took the stage for a packed Ballroom 20 panel. Watch our interviews below.

Appearing in person on the panel were Penny Johnson Jerald (Dr. Claire Finn), Scott Grimes (Lt. Gordon Malloy), Peter Macon (Lt. Commander Bortus), J Lee (Lt. John LaMarr), Mark Jackson (Isaac), Jessica Szohr (Lt. Talla Keyali), Anne Winters (Ensign Charly Burke), Chad L. Coleman (Klyden), executive producer Brannon Braga, and co-producer Tom Costantino, with creator and star Seth MacFarlane (Captain Ed Mercer) joining in via Zoom. The panel was moderated by Collider Editor-in-chief Steven Weintraub.

While there weren’t any real hints about what’s to come in the final two episodes of the season—Seth MacFarlane loathes a spoiler, and made no secret of it as he Zoomed in for the panel—more than a few intense battle scenes flashed up on screen ahead of the Q&A session, and the audience was left with a rather troubling phrase: bad pennies keep turning up.

Considering some of the trials that the USS Orville has already endured this season, I’m definitely worried for the crew of my favorite exploratory space vessel—particularly given that there’s not yet been any confirmation of a fourth season.

“We don’t know, and ​​I don’t think we will know until this season finishes,” MacFarlane said during The Orville’s SDCC 2022 panel, before adding that as long as there is a demand for it, “there is certainly a desire for it on our end.”

That said, with an announcement during the panel that all three seasons of the show will be available to stream on Disney+ in addition to Hulu on August 10, it seems unlikely that the next two episodes will be the last.

’The Orville’ at SDCC 2022

Before the panel, Subjectify met with some of the cast and EPs at The Orville’s press room roundtables in order to discuss some of the biggest moments we’ve already seen in the long-awaited third season, and hear some of their (spoiler-free, don’t worry Seth) thoughts.

First up—and introduced to our table as “the fun ones”—were Peter Macon (Lt. Commander Bortus) and Chad L Coleman (Klyden), whose decidedly rocky on-screen relationship took another turn during last week’s outstanding episode, “Midnight Blue.”

In the episode, the divided couple’s daughter Topa is kidnapped during a visit to The Sanctuary–a colony formed for female Moclans who wished to live without persecution from the nominally all-male species.

No punches are pulled in the feature-length episode, and though it ends with Topa safely home on board the ship, her until-now separated fathers sharing a meal, and Klyden expressing his regret for allowing his prejudice toward female Moclans to get in the way of caring for his child, both actors seemed in agreement that we haven’t seen the last of the consequences for his actions earlier in the season.

Speaking to the emotional core of both this episode and “A Tale of Two Topas”–another standout from this season which centered their relationships with one another and their daughter, who had until that point been raised as a son in line with Moclan tradition–Coleman touched on the fact that the show doesn’t shy away from difficult topics:

“People care because we care. They care because we care. It matters to us. We know what’s on the table, and we know what we didn’t sidestep. We’re taking on stuff that many people—it’s polarizing for people, it’s frustrating, people don’t know how to have the conversations about these things. And Seth’s writing, and all the others as well, just go at it in such a 360° way.”

The Orville SDCC 2022
As someone who found The Orville fairly late in the game—I only started watching around October of last year—I will admit that I never expected to find such nuanced and thoughtful storytelling in a show that, until I started watching, I’d mistakenly believed was a Star Trek parody. But while it’s definitely not light on humor, that well-rounded approach that Coleman is talking about is apparent in every single episode, and is perhaps even more evident now that the show is not subject to the constraints of a strict network runtime. It was incredibly gratifying to hear that the cast feels the importance of that.

Related: Staffer Subjectivities: ‘Kung Fu,’ ‘The Sandman,’ ‘The Orville,’ and more of our most anticipated 2022 TV

Macon also talked about how much the writing, and particularly the storyline with Topa’s kidnapping, affected him on a personal level:

“I have two small boys, and I’m getting a little choked up right now, but I remember when we were shooting that I just dropped to my knees, because I’m like imagining screaming out trying to find my child. And this is the writing that got served up to me, and I feel so grateful to sort of compartmentalize and organize that pathos of understanding what it means to be a parent.”

The pair also joked about a brief, charged moment between Bortus and Kelly (played by Adrianne Palicki) as they attempted to find Topa—though whether that will go anywhere remains to be seen.

One last takeaway from our Orville experience at SDCC 2022: Macon says he’s been pitching a puppet musical to Seth for years, and personally? I’m here for it.

Watch the full interview with Peter Macon and Chad L Coleman here:

Next up, Executive Producer Brannon Braga and Co-Producer Tom Costantino stopped by to chat, and Subjectify Media couldn’t miss a chance to ask them about that incredible and unexpected Dolly Parton cameo in last week’s episode.

This wasn’t the first time Dolly Parton’s presence has been felt on the show—the season 2 battle to the tune of “9 to 5” won’t be leaving my memory any time soon—but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to actually see her on screen.

Fans who follow Costantino on Twitter will already know about the logistical magic that the team pulled off in order to film Dolly’s scene during the height of the pandemic—an entire set was shipped out to Nashville so her coverage could be safely filmed and then spliced together with footage from Fox studios in Los Angeles—but we wanted to know how long a Dolly cameo has been on their Orville wishlist, considering the love the show has shown for her in the past.

“It was definitely a little bit of a YOLO,” Costantino joked at our Orville SDCC 2022 roundtables, while Braga–who co-wrote the episode with Andre Bormanis–told us that they took a gamble writing her into the story without knowing if she would be willing. In the end, “Seth worked his magic, and she did it. Turns out she loves science fiction! Makes you love her even more.”

As epic as the Dolly cameo was, the thing that stands out the most to me this season is how cinematic every episode has felt. We asked about how the longer run-times afforded to the show by its move to Hulu have affected things behind the scenes, and how freeing that has been from a creative standpoint.

Costantino told us that when you have to cut for time, you’re “not using your full arsenal.”

“We have great actors, we have great writers, but if we have to cut everything out, and pull it, and just blow right through it, you don’t really ever get to feel it,” he continued. “The reason that you’re feeling the acting is so amazing, and you’re connecting with these people, is we’re letting them do their jobs.”

Braga agreed, adding, “I think what you’re seeing in the move to Hulu and the New Horizons of it all is really about the ability for stories to take the amount of time they need to take. And the reward for that is that you find yourself crying when you watch the show. I think that’s the cumulative effect of all the changes that have been done. It’s an investment in the characters. It’s a testament to the writing, the editing, the acting—all of it. But I do believe that Seth’s genius move to give the stories more breadth and depth has resulted in very powerful emotional moments you might not have got in a 43 minute running time.”

Watch the full interview with Brannon Braga and Tom Costantino here:

Last to sit down with us during the Orville SDCC 2022 roundtables were Mark Jackson (Isaac), Penny Johnson Jerald (Dr. Claire Finn), and this season’s new cast member Anne Winters (Ensign Charly Burke), whose intense distrust and dislike of Isaac was recently made even more understandable when it was revealed that she had unspoken feelings for the friend whose death Isaac was responsible for (alongside countless others).

Talking about her character’s reception on the show, Winters says she’s hopeful that the audience can understand her journey, and see that she has room to grow now that she’s part of an open-minded crew.

In an excellent breakdown of her character with Jerald during the interview, Winters agreed that she doesn’t believe Charly hates Isaac, so much as carries a lot of rage toward him after the loss of the woman she loved. As Jerald put it:

“Rage is something that is real. Hate—you can just put that on someone.”

Jackson and Jerald also spoke a little more about Isaac’s betrayal in season 2—when he assisted the Kaylon in carrying out a full scale attack on the Union after having spent years collecting data about his coworkers on board the USS Orville. Jerald pretty astutely called his actions “heinous”, and Jackson went on to express his appreciation for the way that breach of trust has been explored:

“It was so important to address right at the beginning of this season what had happened, and the role that Isaac played in that, and how it can’t be brushed under the carpet.”

Finally, Subjectify asked about how Jerald and Jackson approached an until-recently unheard of occurrence on set—an emotional Isaac.

Throughout the season, there have been a couple of moments during which it seemed clear that Isaac was developing more of an understanding of emotion–even during his (flawed) logic-based decision to attempt deactivation in the season opener, he sought to offer his “best wishes” to Claire’s family in particular, suggesting that while he may not be able to feel in the way an organic lifeform does, he is not quite as detached as most Kaylon. And then, in the episode “From Unknown Graves,” he briefly gained the ability to actually experience the full spectrum of emotion for himself through the installation of an “upgrade”. He had a very sweet (but ultimately, deeply upsetting) date with Claire in the environmental simulator while the chip that allowed him to feel remained active, and we couldn’t help but wonder if such a big difference in the character was jarring from an acting standpoint.

According to Jerald, the pair made a point of discussing the scene once they knew it was coming: “What we talked about was the fact that it was new. And so– it wasn’t just new for us, it was new for Claire. We talked about being kid-like. We wanted to just explore something for the first time–and that’s what emotions are when you’re a kid.”

Watch the full Orville SDCC 2022 interview with Mark Jackson, Penny Johnson Jerald, and Anne Winters here:

With only two episodes to go before the end of the season, and so much tension on board the ship, that worrisome phrase from the pre-panel trailer—bad pennies keep turning up—refuses to leave my thoughts. Whether it means another betrayal is on the horizon, or perhaps just some bad luck, I can’t wait to see how it affects the crew.

The penultimate episode of ‘The Orville: New Horizons’ season 3 airs on Hulu this Thursday, July 28