Favorite Fictional Characters, #372: Commander Kelly Grayson
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
I've said it before: The Orville is the best Star Trek we've seen since the heyday of The Next Generation. Seth MacFarlane's passion project is clearly steeped in the themes and tropes of the Trek universe, and more than one alum of TNG has been part of the fun both in front of and behind the camera. It shows. The production quality is excellent, and the stories are populated by three-dimensional, interesting people with very human foibles. Sometime in the mid- to late-90s it was decided that science fiction and fantasy should be dark and gritty and depressing, and that our protagonists should be angry, broken anti-heroes who stomp around in a foul mood all the time. That's never appealed to me, in comics or movies or TV. I like characters who can laugh and love and feel sheepish, and I like plots that don't all need to be angsty dystopian fever dreams.
At any rate, The Orville can be very funny (it can also be unfunny, as MacFarlane is a free-swinger at the comedy plate), but it's not a comedy at heart. It is fundamentally a vehicle for allegorical storytelling, as Star Trek always has been at its best. And it has a great crew. MacFarlane's Captain Ed is only part of a talented and compelling ensemble, and many of them could have shown up on this list. But when I thought about it, I find that the show comes most alive when his ex-wife and first officer Kelly Grayson is on screen. Look, I've had a sneaker for Adrianne Palicki since Friday Night Lights, and her portrayal of Mockingbird on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was strong. She might be a statuesque blonde, but she's no vapid piece of window dressing - she's the adult in the room, the competent star-officer who knows what she's doing more so than her often feckless captain. Neither is she banal perfection; the show's central premise is that she screwed over Ed by cheating on him with a Smurfy Rob Lowe, and she suffers from insecurities and doubts like the rest of them (and us).
There's a remnant of friendship, sexual chemistry, and affection between Ed and Kelly, a vein of ore the show's writers have mined relentlessly for laughs and pathos alike. She's a creature of skill, integrity, and kindness, and does it all without becoming a bulletproof Mary Sue or an empty nod to political correctness. It's good stuff. I'm excited to see that The Orville will be back for a third season. It's great Star Trek. Even though it isn't.