Seth MacFarlane & Adrianne Palicki Talk Balancing Comedy & Drama in ‘The Orville’ Season 2

Ray Mickshaw/FOX

The Orville may be TV’s strangest hybrid. Seth MacFarlane’s homage to classic sci-fi is a mashup of comedy, drama and social issues — and the series is boldly going bigger for Season 2. Centered on the misfit crew of an exploratory space vessel in the early 25th century, The Orville debuted last year as Fox’s most-watched new drama since 2015’s Empire. After a yearlong hiatus, the fan favorite returns Sunday, December 30, following an NFL doubleheader, before moving to its regular timeslot Thursday, January 3, 9/8c.

“Narratively and visually, the scope of this thing has doubled in size,” says MacFarlane, who created The Orville and stars as ship captain Ed Mercer. He’s not kidding — massive battles in space, crew members in danger and their first contact with a new species await. MacFarlane (also the creative force behind Family Guy) and Adrianne Palicki (Kelly, Ed’s ex and second-in-command) beam down some intel about what the team is in for next, plus the trick to keeping the show grounded while trekking through the stars.

What did you learn from Season 1 that you want to build upon in this sophomore round?

Seth MacFarlane: For me, it was really tone. The gold-star template we always look to is M.A.S.H., which strove to tell real stories and talk about things that mattered, but at the same time [played] the comedy of realistic human interaction. You’re going to see more gravitas and a lot more humor that comes out of character. And you’re going to see some great science fiction.

Adrianne, did you get Seth’s vibe right away?

Adrianne Palicki: After reading the first five pages of the script, I was sold. As much as the sci-fi plays a massive role, it’s still about relationships and social issues. Not growing up a Trekkie, thankfully I have Seth to fall back on when it comes to all of that stuff. [Laughs]

Seth, are you the on-set source for all things nerd?

MacFarlane: Believe it or not, I’m not a hugely educated science-fiction buff. There are writer-driven shows like The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek that struck a nerve when I was younger. But to me, the best science fiction can take something very much of today and tell it in a way that’s objective and fair in presentation and in point of view. I think you saw that on The Twilight Zone. You see it in Black Mirror.

You’ve tackled gender norms, religion and the ills of social media. What issues are addressed in Season 2?

MacFarlane: I don’t want to spoil it. We talk about as many issues as we can in a way that’s entertaining first and analytical second. We find out a lot more about [humanoid species] the Moclans, a race that’s deliberately positioned as very problematic. Their viewpoints do not align with ours, but we have to find a way to coexist. There’s nothing more relevant than that right now.

What is the status of Ed and Kelly’s relationship? At the end of Season 1, they got flirty, but Kelly made the very smart decision to keep things professional.

Palicki: These two people love each other, so the “will they or won’t they?” is going to continue.

How do you ensure Kelly isn’t the ex-wife buzzkill?

Palicki: She’s a well-rounded character who never loses her sense of humor. She’s also Ed’s right-hand woman.

MacFarlane: You will see a little more of Kelly as the muscle of the command team. Adrianne’s got some great action sequences, and nobody on the planet does that better than she does.

Who do you think is a better leader, Ed or Kelly?

Palicki: I’d go with Kelly because she can balance a lot. She’s always looking out for Ed. But they are the yin and yang of each other. They’re just a really good team.

Seth, it seems like some critics always come at you.

MacFarlane: There’s a bizarre ax to grind, and I’m not sure where it comes from, because my personal interactions with the press are always very positive. I did ask a critic this once and he said, “We feel like you’re too confident.” I laughed my ass off, because I spend every day wringing my hands, hoping I’ve made the right decision on every little thing. I often wonder, if All in the Family were on today, would people go after Norman Lear because Archie Bunker is who he is? Would they be able to separate the work from what the person actually believes?

The Orville, Season Premiere, Sunday, December 30, 8/7c, Fox