The Dark Herald Recommends: Resident AlienThe Dark Herald
Just the right amount of cringe.
It’s almost impossible to do.
Remember when SyFy Channel was The Sci-Fi Channel and it didn’t suck? No, I’m not joking there really was a time that that was a thing. I admit you have to go back a ways to find that time. Fifteen years is a decent medium for when the Sci-Fi channel was at its peak. On Friday nights you would have Battlestar Galactica (when it didn’t suck), Doctor Who (when it really didn’t suck), and Stargate SG-1 (which never really sucked unless you count SG Universe).
Sci-Fi was on something of a comeback trail. At the turn of the century, it had had Stargate and Farscape. Plus, they had their own, not too shabby version of Dune and a few of its sequels. Then disaster struck in the form of Barry Dillar who became the head of Universal and hates science fiction. Farscape was absolutely destroyed in the rating by reruns of Star Trek the Next Generation when it first went into syndication. Consequently, Dillar ordered Farscape canceled and had those funds used to buy up the syndication rights to X-Files. Mulder and Scully had been pretty hot in the early 1990s but they had long since worn out their welcome by the time the show retired.
It was a huge mistake and nearly sank Sci Fi.
But Bonnie Hammer managed to bring the channel back from the edge of the cliff with the “Characters Welcome” rebranding. Sci-Fi and USA networks became known for their wacky or deeply layered but always memorable, characters.
That is what Resident Alien reminds me of, the characters of the mid-2000s Sci-Fi Channel. That’s what this show brings to the party more than anything else. A collection of really good characters… On a not terribly huge budget. It’s like mid-2000s Sci-Fi Channel in that regard too.
Resident Alien stars Alan Tudyk as the Alien, we never do find out his proper name but everyone in town calls him, Harry so, I’ll go with that.
And Harry is here to kill us all.
That is Harry’s mission, the genocide of the Human Race. So, not really E.T. Harry is a lot closer to a 1950s Bug-Eyed Monster. When Harry was getting ready to drop the MacGuffin bomb on Earth a bolt of lightning hit his ship and broke off the weapon pod somewhere in the mountains of Colorado.
Harry landed and had to find a way to blend in with us monkey-boys until he could find the MacGuffin Device and kill us. Then he could go home.
He found a cabin inhabited by Doctor Harry Vanderspeigle (Tudyk in a dual role). Vanderspeigle panics and hits the alien in the face with a fireplace poker. The alien kills him and throws his body in the lake.
Did I mention this was a comedy? Yeah, it’s a comedy.
Here is a clip of the first seven minutes of the show.
The big thing about this show is that it manages several really good balancing acts. It manages to consistently push things “just enough.” What do I mean by that? Well, let’s take the aforementioned incident. The Alien is the show’s point of view protagonist. This automatically gives him a certain degree of sympathy from the audience, but the writers needed to demonstrate that is not yogurt munching hyper-advanced Vulcan-like extra-terrestrial. Killing a man shows that, but the Alien didn’t kill Vanderspiegle until after he was struck by the man with a fireplace poker. Yes, he over responded to the attack but he didn’t start it.
The “just enough” thing is prevalent throughout the first season of this show. Harry the Alien is obviously going through a fish out of the story. He turns himself into a duplicate of the man he killed right down to the DNA and learns English by bingeing NCIS. Since he is an alien Harry frequently puts himself in very cringe situations.
Here I am defining cringe as “embarrassment felt for another.” Cringe is a very uncomfortable emotion. Psychology studies consistently indicate that most people find cringe far more disagreeable than they do personal embarrassment.
And cringe is super easy to get completely wrong. I can’t stand Ricky Gervais; he consistently pushes cringe over the edge. It’s like he revels in the revulsion his audiences feel for him because ultimately, they are the ones that are hurt by his self-degradation. Cringe is incredibly unpleasant to experience. And it is probably why Gammas get picked on so much in high school.
But just the right amount of cringe can be incredibly funny and trust me it is. There is several factors at work. Part of it is that Harry is fundamentally incapable of feeling embarrassment himself. Additionally, there is the reaction of the people around him.
Also, the show likes to push the boundaries just a bit. There is a little boy in town named Max who is the only one who can see that Harry is actually an alien. When Harry gets drunk for the first time in his life, he announces to himself. “The answer is simple. It’s night so, I will just break into that kid’s house and kill him. I’ll say one thing about whiskey. It’s allowing me to make smart, rational decisions.”
Trust me, it’s a lot funnier when Tudyk says it.
The show has Woke casting but it actually makes sense given that the show takes place in a mining town, turned minor league ski resort in Colorado. The only real question mark is over Max’s Muslim friend who is a girl but since she isn’t right all time I was able to stomach it.
Harry becomes the town doctor when the old town doctor is murdered. This forces him to deal with just about everyone in town whether he wants to or not. The show is of course about Harry coming to grips with being a human and learning why killing us all off, while understandable to a certain degree, is nonetheless a fundamentally bad idea.
Resident Alien is available on SyFy’s website with commercials. Amazon, if you are willing to pay for it. And finally, Peacock for free if you cancel the free trial fast enough.
The Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm.