While most of the crew knew him by his casual demeanor and active dating life, John was one of the most intelligent and creative officers on the ship - a secret he guarded closely.
John LaMarr grew up in a young colony on an unnamed planet. He later described the colonists of his youth as a "lot of farmers, lot of builders, [and] they didn't trust anyone who was too much of an egghead." Deep-seated anti-intellectualism taught John to hide his brilliance from his peers. "You'd be surprised at how fast you can alienate people when you're always right," he later recalled.
John attended the academy at Union Point where he earned some of the highest marks in the school's history, including scores in advanced engineering that were "off the charts," an achievement he kept secret. One of his classmates was Celeste.
After graduating, his humble, guarded attitude led to a quiet career in the Planetary Union, though he did attain the advanced helmsman class of level eight early on. He was assigned to the USS Orville where he served "for years" as a navigator under an unnamed captain.
Career under Captain Mercer
On September 10, 2419, a new captain, Ed Mercer, and a new pilot at the helm, Gordon Malloy, joined the Orville. Gordon and John became fast friends in addition to co-workers: fighting in numerous battles as pilot and navigator and spending time together when off-duty.
In the Orville's first mission, John proved himself a crucial member of the ship's bridge crew. Forced into a battle with a heavier Krill destroyer, John assisted Gordon maneuver the Orville in a difficult attack tactic called "Hugging the Donkey" to distract the Krill from capturing a shuttle which held an away team, Doctor Aronov, and a quantum accelerator.
Perhaps John's most notable moment on the bridge came later that year, when the Orville engaged a superior enemy Krill destroyer to rescue the USS Druyan. The fight severely weakened both vessels' hulls, and damage left the Orville vulnerable to even the slightest damage on the starboard side. Second Officer Bortus, acting as commander, ceded weapons controls to the John, who targeted the enemy's quantum engines. John knew the Orville could not destroy the Krill's weapons fast enough; but the possibility that the enemy's engines were fatally damaged could save them if the plasma torpedoes could strike. The gambit worked: the Orville's plasma torpedoes exploded against the hull of the ship, destroying the engines inside and saving the Union ship.
Imprisonment on Sargus 4
In early 2420, John was assigned to a landing team on Sargus 4 to find two missing Union explorers. While teasing Chief of Security Alara Kitan, he simulated grind dancing on a statue of Mella Giffendon. His dance was witnessed by several passerby, one of whom recorded John's dance and uploaded the video to the planet's Master Feed. John received hundreds of thousands of "downvotes," public votes of disapproval, and John was arrested and forced to undergo an apology tour. Publicity Officer Willks explains:
- You performed a disrespectful act on a statue commemorating frontier hero Mella Giffenden. It was caught on video and uploaded to the Master Feed. You received over one million downvotes from the public, which makes what you did a crime against the State.
The arrest created a crisis for the Orville. Admiral Tucker forbade the Orville from pulling John from Sargus 4 as it would contaminate the developing culture. John was sentenced to a final vote where if Sarguns casted over 10 million downvotes against John, he would be subjected to a drastic neurological treatment called social correction. Science Officer Isaac manipulated public opinion on the planet by uploading doctored videos of John in heart-warming situations to the Master Feed. The plan worked and public opinion turned in time for John to avoid correction.
Promotion to Chief Engineer
By 2420, after years on the Orville, the ship's commanding staff had still not learned of John's remarkable academic record: First, because John's relaxed work attitude struck others as immature; and second, because neither Captain Mercer nor First Officer Kelly Grayson had cause to review it. That cause came in several months later with the departure of the ship's chief engineer, Steve Newton.
Steve transferred assignment for the chance to design a new space station. At his farewell reception, John and Gordon played a practical joke on Lieutenant Yaphit and Bortus by hiding a piece of Yaphit's gelatinous body inside Bortus' Prawgus cake. The prank incensed Yaphit, who reported the two to Kelly. The Commander placed letters of reprimand on their personnel files and sees that John boasted some of the strongest Union aptitude ratings and Union Point academic performance records of all time.
With Kelly's encouragement, Ed assigned John to assist Isaac and scan a spatial anomaly that damaged the ship's quantum engines. John was uninterested in a promotion and assuming more responsibilities, but assented. After the two pored over data recovered by the team, John realized that the spatial anomaly is a pocket of two-dimensional space.
Meanwhile, Krill were alerted of a cache of stolen Krill weapons resting near the Orville in space. With the Krill closing in from almost all sides and the spatial anomaly behind them, engineering needed to find a way to escape quickly. John conceived of a "quantum bubble" that would allow the ship to maintain three-dimensional form inside a bubble while traversing two-dimensional space.
John and Ed piloted a shuttle in front of the Orville that had been modified to manifest a spatial conduit that permits the shuttle to enter two-dimensional space and towed the ship to a new exit to three-dimensional space. Sufficiently impressed by John's experience and new-found maturity, the Captain offered Steve's old position to John, leapfrogging Lieutenant Yaphit, who was next in line for promotion.
John's first day as Chief Engineer addressed Engineering:
- Okay, everybody listen up. There's a new boss in town and his name is Lieutenant Commander John LaMarr. You guys ready to step it up? Okay, boom. Now, if we can increase engine efficiency to 97 percent by the end of the work week, we can all take off early and get wasted. Sound good? Well don't just stand there, snap to it.
- In July 2421, John and Gordon investigated whether a large construct in orbit around planet Alibar was a weapon. It was in fact an enormous Quantum Shifter, a device to shift the entire planet to an alternate universe. The Orville escaped just before the Shifter activated.
- Later that year, John made a disguise out of Moclan body armor and hull plating for Talla Keyali to rescue the Okudum from their Nazh oppressors.
The Road Not Taken timeline
In an alternate timeline where Ed Mercer did not become captain of the Orville, John served as navigator on the Orville until being made Chief Engineering Officer in September 2419 due to the promotion of Steve Newton to First Officer. It was around this time that Chief Security Officer Alara Kitan and John developed romantic feelings for each other. When Alara decided to return to Xelaya in September 2420, John confessed he would miss her and the two kissed. It is implied the two briefly dated.
Talla Keyali became chief of security of the Orville, probably around September 2420 when Alara left. During that time, Kelly Grayson attempted to warn Talla and John that the Kaylon would one day attack, but they ignored her.
After the disastrous Battle of Earth, where the Kaylon defeated the Planetary Union, Talla and John LaMarr fled the Orville together in an escape pod. They found Kelly and joined her scavenger ship. He later hacked into the Kaylon neural network to obtain the information needed to send Claire Finn to the year 2414 and restore the timeline.
In 2419, John dated a female Keribex, an alien with two heads. He dated both women at the same time while managing to avoid each head finding out about the other. "It'd still be going on," John later recalled, "But the left head always wanted to go hiking, and that's just sort of a deal-breaker for me."
In April 2420, John began seeing his inferior officer, Ensign Jenny Turco, for late-night sexual dalliances and marijuana. His ongoing relationship with Jenny became an open question by December with some officers believing the two were dating, though Jenny and John were themselves unsure.
Real quick, I just wanna say, all you all can suck ass, and I'm a spaceman.— John LaMarr after avoiding Social Correction
John developed a reputation as laid-back but intelligent. Ed described him as "impulsive" but "fantastic at his job." When John appeared on The Breakfast Show, he said he liked soda, was a good driver, and could drink an entire bottle of tequila and say the alphabet.
John got along best with his bridgemate, Gordon. The two often disregarded decorum. John frequently drank soda on the bridge; addressed other crew members as "man" or "dude," even to superior officers, and frequently made openly critical or sarcastic remarks. John joked about Alara's inexperience after she demurred in the face of a decision. When Alara dared him to repeat his remark, he stood down and addressed her as "sir."
The character of John LaMarr is mostly unchanged from the initial development stages of the show of April, 2016. In the pilot script, John is introduced as "co-pilot" and "level eight helmsman" of the Orville; and the character is described simply as a black man in his 30s. Creator Seth MacFarlane wrote John specifically for the actor J. Lee, who protrays John on the show. Consequently, some of the personality traits and quirks of John on film are in fact extensions of Lee's personality off-camera.
John was promoted to Chief Engineer in the eleventh episode of Season 1 and moved off the Bridge to Engineering, a move that surprised Lee, who was not told of the promotion until he got the episode's script.
According to Scott Grimes, the show's writers promoted John to Engineering because they felt that Gordon and John's personalities were too similar for television audiences. By changing John's position, rank, and work station, they thought they could separate the two as distinct characters. On the other hand, MacFarlane said the promotion arose from "the need to give that character something more to do," and added:
- There's a little sacrifice because they're so good together and you can no longer have them sitting next to each other, you lose a little bit of that, but what we gain is an identity for that character that really gave us a story and became an anchor for this rogue's gallery.
John often functions as a writer's tool to explain the story through metaphors that audiences will understand. For example, Isaac says that the Orville can enter Calivon space because Isaac is Kaylon. John summarizes: "White guy can go to Compton if black dude says it's cool."
For The World of the Orville, Lee said that John is "a straight shooter and a great navigator/pilot. He's got a dry sense of humor and someone you would always want to have your back. Whether that's in a battle with the Krill or in a joke session in the Mess Hall." Science consultant André Bormanis added that "he's somebody who likes to have a good time, is incredibly good at what he does, but kind of downplays his intelligence and his real potential, and there's something interesting about that."
- He requested permission from Ed to drink soda on the bridge as long as he did not spill it. Later, during the Orville's first departure from Earth, John could be seen drinking soda on the bridge.
- He found blue jeans to be uncomfortably tight and to look ridiculous.
- He loathed the music of Barry Manilow, which the rest of Engineering loves.
- He had a crippling fear of clowns (coulrophobia), and considered "hobo clowns" to be the scariest of all. His phobia was so strong even the mention of the word "clown" caused him to grow noticeably uncomfortable.
- He had one of the highest academic records from Union Point and, after Isaac, was considered the most intelligent member of the Orville.
- He experienced motion sickness when entering two-dimensional space, vomiting in front of the Captain.
- John's character paralleled Geordi LaForge of Star Trek: The Next Generation. LaForge and John started on the bridge and later were promoted to Chief Engineers.
- According to Lee, "Seth wrote the character with me in mind so we both say 'boom.'"
- Lee later revealed that saying 'boom' is a habit from his father.
- The button sequences that John and Gordon press while at the helm are not arbitrary. Both Lee and Grimes had to learn actual button patterns.
- He hated hiking, and it was a deal-breaker in relationships.
- John was the only human character confirmed thus far not to have been born on Earth.
- Actor J. Lee explains John's casual attitude during introductions in Old Wounds as John's way to assess Captain Mercer: "When I first meet Ed, the new captain of the ship, I sort of take him in and size him up a little but then quickly shows how great of a captain he really is."
- Auditions for the role of LaMarr included humping a statue of Mella Giffendon.
- Episode 1x11: New Dimensions
- Episode 1x11: New Dimensions
- Episode 1.5x03: The Word of Avis, Pt. 1
- Episode 1x01: Old Wounds
- John tells Yaphit that they served together on the Orville for years. Episode 2x14: The Road Not Taken
- Episode 1x04: If the Stars Should Appear
- Episode 1x11: New Dimensions
- Episode 2.5x01: Launch Day, Pt. 1
- Episode 2.5x02: Launch Day, Pt. 2
- Episode 2.5x04: Heroes, Pt. 2
- Episode 1x05: Pria
- Episode 2.5x05: Digressions, Pt. 1
- Episode 2x14: The Road Not Taken
- Episode 2.5x06: Digressions, Pt. 2
- Episode 2x01: Ja'loja
- Episode 2x06: A Happy Refrain
- Episode 1x12: Mad Idolatry
- Isaac believes this in A Happy Refrain.
- Episode 1x07: Majority Rule
- Episode 1x07: Majority Rule
- MacFarlane, Seth. Orville 1x01 - Pilot. Fox Broadcasting Co.
- Episode 1x02: Command Performance
- LaPalme, Kevin. "THE ORVILLE’S J LEE AND HIS LEAP OF FAITH". LaPalme Magazine. Dec. 6, 2017.
- Seat42F. "Scott Grimes J. Lee THE ORVILLE Comic Con 2018 Interview". YouTube. July 23, 2018.
- "THE ORVILLE PODCAST EP 14 - THE SCOTT GRIMES INTERVIEW". The Orville Podcast. Dec. 8, 2017.
- "Mindscape 58 | Seth MacFarlane on Using Science Fiction to Explore Humanity". Sean Carroll. Aug. 5, 2019.
- Bond, Jeff. The World of the Orville. Titan Books. 2018. Pg. 40.
- Episode 1x08: Into the Fold
- Episode 1x10: Firestorm
- Orville Live Stream Q&A with Scott Grimes, Kelly Hu, J Lee, Peter Macon, & Mark Jackson. GalaxyCon. July 16, 2020.
- Bernstein, Abby. "THE ORVILLE: Scott Grimes beams up for Season 1 of new space trek – Exclusive Interview". AssignmentX. Dec. 1, 2017.
- Mayo, Lauren. "Actor J Lee talks artistry and new Fox series ‘The Orville’". Rolling Out. August 24, 2017.