I have a rule when it comes to new TV shows; I give it three episodes before I decide whether to keep watching or let it go. This gives it a fair shot, because if you watch a pilot… well, it’s a pilot. Go back and watch some of the greatest television programs of all time, and nine out of ten times the pilot, in hindsight, is garbage. Absolute garbage. Could Resident Alien be the same?
So for me, it really isn’t fair to judge a show’s validity on only the pilot. Therefore I give it three episodes to find it’s footing. If I can’t find something that grabs me in those first three episodes and entices me to see where this story goes, I cut her loose.
Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Alan Tudyk is Alan Tudyk, And That’s A Good Thing!
Fortunately for you, I’ve already watched the first three episodes so you don’t have to, although you may want to.
Based off of the Dark Horse Comics miniseries of the same title, Resident Alien stars Tudyk as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle… er… actually he’s an alien from another planet named Captain Hah Re who has taken on the persona of Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle.
Whilst on a secret mission to earth, the nefarious purpose of which we find out at the end of the first episode, Captain Re’s spaceship is struck by lightning over the Colorado mountains and crash lands outside of the tiny town of Patience, CO. Stranded in the snow, Captain Re finds the remote and isolated cabin of the vacation doctor and brutally murders him by throwing him into the frozen lake outside. In a gross, classic sci-fi display, Captain Re enacts his race’s ability to morph into the human form of Dr. Vanderspeigle, and spends months learning how to speak human language by watching episodes of Law and Order (dun dun!).
His goal is simple. Find the remnants of his ship and the device he was supposed to deploy and complete his mission. Things get a little sticky after a few months of searching when the county Sheriff shows up at his remote cabin. There’s been a murder in town, and they need a doctor to perform the autopsy. Why come to him if the town has a perfectly good doctor? Because the murder victim is the town doctor!
That’s the setup, what’s the knock-down?
Now, you may be asking me “Thanks for the exposition, Basil, but what’s this show really about, and should I be watching it?” And that’s a great question, Austin.
The short answer is, yes. Especially if you are a fan of Alan Tudyk’s work in general. He delivers with his usual goofy-yet-nuanced character performance, which is perfect for what ends up being a fish-out-of-water tale about an extra-terrestrial sent to earth to *SPOILER ALERT* destroy humanity. In order to complete his mission, he has to find his doomsday device, but he needs time. Having already been discovered by the local humans, who are now in need of a doctor, he takes on the role of small-town physician to maintain his cover. Again, shenanigans ensue.
Resident Alien is truly a dramedy, combining the absurd concept of a space alien seeking to go unnoticed in a small Colorado town and while learning about and, yes, empathizing with these humans that he has been sent here to terminate.
I’m Intrigued, Tell Me More
There’s an old saying in screenwriting; if you have a great story, write a movie. If you have great characters, write a series!
Boy does Resident Alien deliver. With a whole batch of colorful characters, here are some of my highlights.
Sheriff Mike Thompson (played by Corey Reynolds of The Closer and All American) – A no nonsense cop who is apparently the only African American in the small town. He insists that people call him “Big Black.” This makes people uncomfortable.
Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko, probably best known for playing Tiger Lily on ABC’s Once Upon A Time) – The town doctor’s assistant and often plays the straight-woman to Tudyk’s weirdo.
Perhaps one of my favorite characters is D’arcy (Alice Wetterlund who recurred on Silicon Valley and was a regular on another alien comedy, TBS’s People of Earth) the sassy bar owner with a crush on the new town doctor.
And one of the most pivotal characters is Max Hawthorne (played by relative newcomer Judah Prehn) – A boy who has the one-in-a-million genetic mutation that allows him to see Hah Re in his true, alien form. Which, of course, sets up a hilarious rivalry between the two.
I’m Nearly Sold, So What Keeps Me Watching?
Remember that “three episode” rule I talked about earlier? Well it absolutely applies here.
While the pilot is charming and sets up the story nicely, establishing the plot and subplots effectively, it was just a tad dry. A few laughs here and there, a couple of poignant moments, but nothing that blew me out of my chair. But with episode two, the show hit’s its stride and it keeps going from there.
I had the pleasure of being able to watch the first three episodes before air (but with the kibosh on spoilers until air date, I had to wait until after the pilot went live, so I could illustrate some of the setup for this article).
In episode two “Homesick” the characters begin to blossom. You start to get a real feel for the townies, their personalities, quirks and cares. You get to see more of Dr. Vanderspeigle struggle-bussing with his newly discovered human traits, and how exactly to relate to the people around him. Not to mention he’s the only doctor for miles and has taken on the role to serve the community.
This episode is where I began laughing out loud. Multiple times. Many times.
Tudyk delights in the traditional and awkward going-along-with-it-lest-I-be-discovered format which we’ve seen over the years. And while it is a trope, there is a novelty that Tudyk brings to learning how to be a human through hilarious voiceover that is reminiscent of the Stranger Planet webcomic by Nathan P. Wyle.
And while Re/Vanderspeigle is the central focal point on the story, as in all great television structure, each character has their own stories and issues to deal with, in addition to solving the murder of their town doctor and getting to know the new one.
Watch. This. Show. Especially if you’re a fan of Alan Tudyk’s brand. And if the pilot is a little dry for your taste, don’t give up. The pilot serves as the setup for the rest of the season. You begin to love more of the characters in the second episode, and by the third episode you’re invested. The twists and turns take off from there, with thrills, laughs and characters that you will love more and more each episode.
Resident Alien airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on SyFy.