Resident Alien began as a Dark Horse comic from creators Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. It followed the story of an alien who crash lands on Earth and poses as a doctor in a small town until he can be rescued. Syfy, decided to adapt the series for television with Chris Sheridan as the creator. This evening the series premiere aired on the cable network.
The TV show follows the basic premise of the source material. Alan Tudyk plays Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, a disguised alien living near Patience, Colorado. His quiet and secluded existence is interrupted when he is approached by the local authorities for help on a murder case. The victim is the town’s only doctor so Harry must aid in the autopsy and is later convinced to temporarily serve as the deceased physician’s replacement. We then meet the various residents of Patience as the investigation begins.
The first episode of Resident Alien visits the familiar fish out of water trope with Vanderspeigle adjusting to his new environment and experiencing things for the first time. It plays up the eccentricity as Harry is socially awkward interacting with the humans and it tries to create a fun and playful mood with the jokes and soundtrack choice.
However, there is a darker tone as well since Harry’s mission is to destroy Earth. During his crash, he lost a device that would induce a catastrophic event and when he’s not playing doctor, he’s combing the wilderness trying to retrieve it. This no doubt sets up his inevitable arc of falling in love with the humans of Patience and having a change of heart.
In this case, the contrasting dark and comedic tones don’t seem to mesh well together because they’re at different extremes. The jokes come off more corny than funny while the darker aspects go too far with Harry’s violent tendencies. This creates a fragmented feeling and you can’t quite settle with either side.
Tudyk is a talented performer so it’s a shame to see him wasted for most of the premiere. Other than a bit where he googles the unfamiliar terms of “douchebag” and “taint”, the writing doesn’t give him much to work with. The actor has proven he can do both weird and menacing well before, two qualities Resident Alien is aiming for with Mr. Nobody from Doom Patrol coming to mind.
The rest of the cast are all amiable starting with Sara Tomko as Asta Twelvetrees, the clinic’s nurse. Tomko is trying really hard to develop chemistry with Tudyk but their friendship feels rushed to get to the point she plays it. This could be because Vanderspeigle’s character is still closed off to other people but their interactions with Asta’s husband cement their bond. The flashback to when Harry landed also serves as a symbolic moment in Asta’s life because she sees a vision of a buck, a symbol of protection.
Sheriff Mike Thompson and Deputy Sheriff Liv Baker, played by Corey Reynolds and Elizabeth Bowen respectively, are always a pleasant distraction, especially their beatboxing rendition of “Amazing Grace”. Reynolds in particular is the only one you feel is having a good time with his over-the-top performance.
One of the more enjoyable parts of the show is the mystery aspect. No matter how peculiar Harry is, he is astute and observant. He can correctly deduce what happened almost like an alien Adrian Monk. The story does effectively build up the overarching murder case by the end of the episode.
For fans of the comic, the changes the show makes from the source material could rub you the wrong way. Part of the charm about Harry/Captain Hah Re, was that even though he was an alien, he was still a regular guy and assimilated with humans fairly easily. This version of Resident Alien plays with the recognizable crazy extraterrestrial trope found throughout television from My Favorite Martian, to Mork & Mindy, to Third Rock from the Sun. It does nothing new besides adding a criminal investigation.
Another significant difference is who can see Harry in his true form. What made the Vanderspeigle/Asta relationship compelling was that she overlooks his appearance and treats him as she would anyone else. I have reservations with the path they took on the show (who thinks terrorizing and killing a kid is funny?) but I can wait to see how it plays out.
Overall, the pilot episode doesn’t hook you, but has enough going for it to warrant sticking around for a few more episodes.
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