'Resident Alien': Uncomfortable in his skin
Time for a pop quiz (grab your soda of choice).
Given the options of watching one of the following types of TV shows, which would you choose?
-- A “fish-out-of-water” story about a guy who — due to circumstances out of his control — finds himself thrust into the role of town doctor in a quirky backwoods community while trying desperately to leave.
No ... it’s not “Northern Exposure.”
-- An ongoing murder mystery set against the odd occurrences in the snow-covered West, where no one else involved seems to be who they appear to be, with elements of mysticism and otherworldly behavior.
No ... it’s not “Twin Peaks.”
-- A comedy about a creature from another planet who gets stranded on Earth, then finds himself having to integrate into human society to avoid suspicion and continue his efforts to carrying out his mission.
No ... it’s not “Third Rock from the Sun.”
If you find yourself having a difficult time deciding, don’t worry ... there’s actually a fourth option:
-- D. All of the above.
The series in question is “Resident Alien” — a new fish-out-of-water-murder-mystery-set-in-a-quirky-backwoods-town-with-elements-of-mystycism-and-science-fiction — currently showing on SYFY and starring in the title role Alan Tudyk ... perhaps the only actor of whom it could be said playing such a role would be second nature.
(Our pop quiz proctor recognizes that a fifth possible answer, “Epsilon. None of the above” would also be acceptable. For those who chose that option, and wish to no longer read about this show, you may turn the page for Sarah Lemon’s review of Noonie’s Boba Tea in Medford).
By the time those who are still here have read this far, the first three episodes of “Resident Alien” have been seen in our household — each greeted upon final credits with the same exchange.
“What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know. Do you want to keep watching?”
“I don’t know.”
It’s that sort of viewing experience.
Some TV shows hook you immediately and you never look back. Some turn you off immediately. Still others you let linger, roll around in your mind a bit before making a decision.
“Resident Alien” would seem to exist outside these categories. For a comedy, it’s slow-moving.
For a mystery, the murder case seems like background noise.
Tudyk’s fish (more like an overgrown gila monster, really) is definitely out of water in the Colorado community where the characters don’t so much talk to each other as they do throw words into the universe.
If such a stew is your cup of Boba Tea, however, you’re in for a treat.
Tudyk — who might actually be from another planet — plays Harry Vanderspeigle ... well, what’s left of him, anyway.
Poor Harry’s fishing cabin happened to be closest to the crash site of the alien ship, after which he got Vanderspeigled by the alien — who took over his identity (and looks) so that he could go undetected while searching for his device among the wreckage and carry out his mission.
More on that in a second.
The sheriff arrives needing Harry’s help (being a doctor and all) to perform the autopsy on a possible murder victim.
Can’t the town doctor do that, Alien/Harry asks (not unreasonably).
No can do, he’s told, because the corpse in question is the town doctor.
And off we go ...
Alien/Harry is thus thrust into the Joel Fleischman role in the town ... although I don’t remember Joel taking a selfie while under the sheet during a pelvic exam.
The residents think the new doctor is odd but, then again, so’s everyone in town — right down to the sci-fi, oops, SYFY-loving kid who’s the only one who can see Harry in his alien form and is determined to expose him, a tenacity that Harry finds admirable.
“This kid is a menace. He just won’t give up,” Alien/Harry says in voiceover. “Where was that effort from the humans when we were helping them build Stonehenge?
“A bunch of idiots just sitting around drinking mead, making us do all the work. Lazy druids.”
And, there it is, the reason why after three episodes, “Resident Alien” is likely to continued to be watched despite our wonder what the hell it is.
Alien/Harry isn’t being set up to be shown as the “most human” of all the characters around him. He isn’t there to be slowly won over by their homemade whiskey and the bravery displayed in the town’s historic mining accident.
As much an amalgamation of “Northern Exposure,” “Twin Peaks” and “Third Rock” it might seem (it’s also not that far from the television version of “Fargo,” either) what “Resident Alien” provides is an escape from formula.
Harry might have learned to speak English from Google and watching “Law & Order” marathons, but he’s not ready to blend in.
At least thus far, he’s on a separate plane of existence than those around him, dissecting them like a frog in a science class while maintaining enough social and intellectual distance to keep the completion of his mission as his primary focus.
Ah, yes, the mission — we were getting back to that at some point, weren’t we?
“Maybe there is something redeemable about the human race after all,” Harry says upon hearing the story of the mine tragedy.
“Unfortunately for them, it’s too late. It’s only a matter of time before I find the rest of my device. And when I do, I can finally complete my mission, and kill them all. Every last one of them.”
Indeed, Harry’s duty is to wipe out humanity ... and it’s a test of our willingness to go along for the ride that Tudyk and those behind “Resident Alien” have us wanting him to succeed.
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin crash landed at email@example.com several of your Earth years ago.