Review by C.J. Bunce
Another pandemic delayed production finally makes its way to TV audiences this week. It’s the Syfy Channel series Resident Alien, based on the crazy-good Dark Horse Comics sci-fi/crime/mystery mash-up comics by Peter Hogan (2000 AD, Tom Strong) and Steve Parkhouse (Milkman Murders, Doctor Who)–first reviewed here at borg back in 2013. Airing Wednesday nights, the show stars Alan Tudyk as the extra-terrestrial hero who survives a ship crash on what was supposed to be a quick mission to Earth, Coneheads-style. Taking on the part of Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, he is able to mask his appearance using his otherworldly powers. Like E.T. he just wants to go home, but he must wait until his friends come to find him in the town of Patience, Colorado, an Everwood-style small town full of medical crises that he must attend to after the town doctor is found dead. He gets pulled into a murder mystery, which he takes to like Agent Cooper in the town of Twin Peaks. It’s this police procedural drama-meets-sci-fi blend that is taken forward in the story.
The pilot episode is a bit clunky for starters–the cast doesn’t have enough opportunity to get its footing yet and there’s not much chemistry between the cast. But the set-up is funny enough to get us to come back for more next week. References to the hero/anti-hero Dr. Alien learning English (and Human) by parroting Jerry Orbach on Law & Order is a good beginning. The alien’s masking abilities work very well–both well-done TV prosthetics and inside the show tricking the other characters–except that one boy in town sees him as the alien he is, so of course the alien plans to kill the boy as soon as possible. Unfortunately for the alien the boy is the son of the mayor, so it’s not likely to be an easy endeavor. The creators let viewers see scenes with the alien and Tudyk–so Tudyk isn’t stuck entirely behind a mask.
Somehow it’s never hard to cheer for a Tudyk character. The alien is a role that seems custom-made for the quirky co-star of Firefly, Powerless, Con Man, The Tick, and Doom Patrol on TV and Serenity, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, A Knight’s Tale, Aladdin, Dead Pool 2, Zootopia, Frozen at the movies–so many shows you might as well name franchises Tudyk hasn’t dabbled in. Tudyk plays his alien stilted and dense, unlike as portrayed in the comics. Viewers will get the feeling we’re supposed to be uncomfortable by what’s happening in Patience. It definitely has some odd, cringey David Lynch-inspired beats, including black actor Corey Reynolds (The Closer) as a sheriff who wants to be called Big Black. Tudyk’s first step is to kill someone and assume his body image. It’s going to be a plus for Tudyk’s character, and hopefully the TV viewing audience, that this town is as strange as he is–it’s quirkier than Northern Exposure, and not quite Mork & Mindy, 3rd Rock from the Sun, or Alf, but you can easily see some X-Files moments coming. The show has some adult humor, aimed at an older teen or adult audience.
Sara Tomko (Pandemic) takes a key role in the series as a nurse who befriends Tudyk’s doctor persona, Alice Wetterlund (People of Earth) is her friend the bartender, Levi Fiehler (Mars) is the young mayor, and Elizabeth Bowen (Life) is the sheriff’s deputy. The big news for the series in future episodes are guest characters played by Linda Hamilton (The Terminator, Chuck) and Terry O’Quinn (Silver Bullet, Lost).
It’s filmed in Vancouver, which offers some good scenery. The series was first discussed in 2013, and the pilot episode premiered at New York Comic Con 2019, so this first season of ten episodes has been sitting a while.
Get caught up on the comics, released in five trade editions you can track down from Elite Comics or your local comic book store. In the first story arc we met the alien and see how he goes undercover as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle in his first murder mystery. The second collection takes the alien/doctor to Seattle to try to help a new-found friend. The third finds him sleuthing out a criminal also hiding behind an alias in town. The feds arrive in the fourth arc, and the fifth arc/collection finds him on a trip to New York City. If you can’t get the comics in stock at your local comics store, you can also order them here at Amazon.
Look for the Syfy series Resident Alien every Wednesday on Syfy, with additional airings on USA.