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The Orville Season 3 - What We Know So Far

Set aboard an exploratory spaceship that's part of the 25th century Planetary Union, The Orville finds its crew visiting distant planets and helping its inhabitants with their problems, all while dealing with their own personal, petty workplace issues. Creator Seth MacFarlane stars as Captain Ed Mercer, alongside Adrianne Palicki as first officer (and Ed's ex-wife) Kelly Grayson. Rounding out the cast are various other humanoid, alien, and android beings who call the ship home.

The Orville is a unique blend of high-stakes life-and-death drama, workplace comedy, and random silliness, all in service of allegorical science-fiction plots that have something to say about human nature or the real world. It's all a delicate balance inside of a Star Trek: The Next Generation framework, and it took someone with the TV clout of Seth MacFarlane to get the show on the air in the first place. Fox has aired two seasons of the series, and there's more on the way. Here's everything we know about the third season of The Orville.

Is The Orville returning for season 3?

In May of 2019, Fox issued a slate of renewals for some of its veteran shows, and at that time officially put in its order for a third season of The Orville. It's something of a no-brainer for the network — over its first two seasons, the show put up consistent (if moderate) viewership numbers, attracting an average of 6.55 million people in season one, and 5.79 million in season two. 

With episodes of The Orville thusly guaranteed, several cast members of the series attended a panel about the series at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019. It was there that MacFarlane announced an addendum to the renewal order: the third season of The Orville wouldn't air on Fox, but would debut on Hulu instead. This means that three shows at least partially credited to MacFarlane will be concurrently in production but air on different platforms, with Family Guy on Fox and American Dad on TBS.

What's the release date for The Orville season 3?

The Orville moving from the bright lights of a primetime slot on Fox to a television streaming service isn't a demotion. In fact, it seems to be a mutually beneficial business decision which gives Seth MacFarlane some breathing room. In addition to serving as a producer and voice actor on Family Guy and American Dad, helping to bring another season of the educational series Cosmos to the air, and picking up side gigs as a singer and performer in projects like The Loudest Voice, MacFarlane works very hard on The Orville. He's its chief creative architect, as well as its lead actor, executive producer, and frequent episode writer and director. In short, he's a busy man.

"My friends at the network understood what I was trying to do with this series, and they've done a spectacular job of marketing, launching and programming it for these past two seasons," MacFarlane said in a statement about the move. He added that because of the show's "ambitious" sci-fi plots and the amount of work it takes to make those into television, he "would not be able to deliver episodes until 2020, which would be challenging for the network." The solution: Hulu, where new episodes of The Orville will appear in late 2020, unencumbered by the seasonal scheduling parameters of a major network.

Who is in the cast for The Orville season 3?

The core cast of the first two seasons of The Orville will return for season 3 when the show lands on Hulu. Creator Seth MacFarlane will be back as Captain Ed Mercer, as will Adrianne Palicki as Commander Kelly Grayson, Penny Johnson Jerald as medical officer Claire Finn, and Scott Grimes as helmsman Gordon Malloy, among others. Late season 2 cast addition Jessica Szohr is also expected to return as Lt. Talla Keyali, the ship's security chief, having replaced Lt. Alara Kitan (portrayed by Halston Sage, who as of 2019 was no longer a member of the main cast). 

The third season will include another new face with performer Anne Winters, best known for her work on the third season of 13 Reasons Why and the comedy Night School. She'll be playing a new Orville character named Charley Burke, though producers have yet to reveal any other details.

What will the cast of The Orville be up to in season 3?

There's no telling exactly where season 3 of The Orville will venture to, apart from visiting new alien planets full of interesting lifeforms each week. However, the show will likely have to address some pretty major developments that occurred toward the end of its last season. With episodes like the two-part "Identity," The Orville ventured far away from its comic elements and standalone episode nature and more toward dark, dramatic storylines that play out over multiple installments. In "Identity," artificial lifeform Isaac goes dark, and the Orville goes to his home world of Kaylon 1 — not in the Planetary Union — hoping to revive him. Isaac comes back to life, but his coworkers uncover grisly evidence that the denizens of this robot planet rose up and killed the biological race that created them... which they plan to do with Earth after wrestling away control of the Orville. All is well in the end, but only after a massive battle, likely casting a permanent dark shadow over Isaac. 

The second season of The Orville ended on something of a cliffhanger, the result of an elaborate plot involving an altered timeline. By the end, Earth had been destroyed, memory wipes had been botched, and the USS Orville may have been destroyed. A third season will probably find some way to undo a lot of all that.

What's the plot of The Orville season 3?

In July of 2019, executive producer Tom Constantino appeared at an Orville-themed event at San Diego Comic-Con. There, he told SyFy Wire that even with the third season premiere nearly 18 months way, the show's writers "have about almost half of the scripts done." Constantino said that even that information was "probably top secret," so not much in the way of The Orville's upcoming plots have been revealed. After the announcement that the show would move to Hulu, creator Seth MacFarlane shared that the change would lead to a fundamental shift in the show. "For me, episode length is really the one and only thing that makes the traditional broadcast model frustrating at times. It forces you to cut every story to exactly 42 minutes. With all the work we put in, I like having the option to let The Orville breathe a bit for season 3," MacFarlane tweeted. He later elaborated, "We're now working with a platform for which the episode length is governed by the story itself."

MacFarlane further discussed his frustration with cutting episodes to meet time guidelines, tweeting that "a difference of minutes can mean keeping or trimming a nugget of character." He even promised that one such "revelation" involving medical officer Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) that was cut out of a season 2 episode will show up in season 3. 

Fans enjoyed "The Orville Experience" at San Diego Comic-Con

The third season of The Orville is quite far away. New episodes won't debut until the latter days of 2020. As of the summer of 2019, the show's writers were still crafting scripts, so until there are some leaks, fans will just have to count down the days until the end of next year. However, producers both thanked fans and whetted their appetites for the show's future Hulu-bound episodes at San Diego Comic-Con with an elaborate interactive exhibit called "The Orville Experience." 

Held just outside of the pop culture convention, Orville fans got to take a deep dive into all things Orville for free. A number of show personnel were on hand, including visual effects producer Brooke Noska, producer/director Jon Cassar, and executive producer Tom Constantino. But the real attractions were all the actual screen-used props, models, costumes, and ray-guns. Fans could even get their picture taken with Unk, the alien blob creature and lieutenant engineer (he's the guy who hooked up Bortus with his pornographic "simulations"). Also of interest: Bortus' actual (and hilarious) mustache and the intricately designed scale model of the USS Orville.

How many episodes will there be in The Orville season 3?

By the end of its second season, The Orville was no longer the show it was when it debuted. At first a spaceship-set workplace comedy (the usual genre for creator and star Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy and American Dad! fame), by the end of its run on Fox it had evolved into a straightforward science-fiction show with only the occasional comedy twist. The show's writers also moved away from self-contained stories in favor of multi-episodes arcs and two-part episodes. 

This commitment to telling full stories — and having the time to do so — will continue when The Orville ports on Hulu for its third season in 2020. Show producer Tom Costantino tweeted that each upcoming episode of The Orville will boast 12 to 15 more minutes per episode than was allowed on network television. There will, however, be fewer stories to tell. Executive producer Jon Cassar said at New York Comic-Con (via TrekMovie) that the third season will consist of 11 episodes — down from the 12 and 14 installments in season one and two, respectively.