Resident Alien

2 out of 5

Created by: Chris Sheridan

covers season 1

In general, when media is adapted from one source to another, no matter how close I am to whichever source, I tried to consider the versions as exactly that: different versions. Different things work in different mediums; it makes sense to make changes. I have very much enjoyed Resident Alien as a comic book, but it’s not necessarily holy ground or anything such that refiguring it for TV should require extra mental effort to achieve the above mindset. However, I also can’t deny some disappointment when hearing that the series’ low-key explorations of humanity via its planet-displaced alien, “Harry” – who’s able to make himself be seen as human through others’ eyes – and its mystery-lite format, with each comic arc solving a particular crime with Harry’s help, was being refigured into Alan Tudyk as a killer, human-hating type of alien, and mysteries exchanged for focusing on his curmudgeonly need return home, and the government’s tracking of his actions, the latter of which is an absolute background detail in the books. I do understand some of this, as it’s more directly mine-able for comedy, and it’s probably an easier elevator pitch (an alien is hiding out in smalltown America and hates everyone!); the frustration is rather because… the comic was already perfectly formatted for TV. In fact, that was my one complaint with it, that it leant itself so readily to a procedural type of show, and wasn’t always best taking advantage of its own format.

Still, none of this would be especially problematic if Resident Alien was actually a good TV series.

I mean, it has its moments, and it has its redeeming elements, notably its cast: I don’t know if I always agree with Alan Tudyk’s fish-out-of-water approach to the alien learning human behaviors, but it’s different, to say the least, and so earns some entertainment value, alongside Tudyk’s general ability to infuse charming goofiness into whatever. Sara Tomko and Alice Wetterlund as some town locals and friends to Harry – one playing his assistant as the town’s doctor, Asta (the role into which he stumbles, kicking off many of the show’s foibles); the latter the oft-carousing bartender – are a good balance of sitcom naturalistic and straight-women off which to ping Tudyk’s silliness. And the show scored with some good kid casting, with Judah Prehn playing Max, who can see Harry’s alien self and is thus his main “enemy,” leading to some very okay gags which play the two against each other. That last comment, though, is the entryway to the show’s overwhelming problem: it’s high concept, and low execution. Once given the setup, the show goes for the most predictable outcomes, and the most predictable variants of jokes. Harry learns goddamned moral lessons straight from 80s half-hour TV shows – voiceover narration included! – and there’s no self-awareness to their presentation. And every additional added quirk – the overly affable town mayor (Levi Fiehler); the brash and ignorant sheriff (Corey Reynolds) – are nearly complete misfires, further muddle to the show’s inability to settle on being an absurdist comedy, R-rated crass, or something closer to the comic book’s low-key nature. That is: for each one of those 80s Hallmark moments, there’s Harry joking about his constant erections. And when the government agents do show up, it’s just another boringly forced plot dollop that’s presented like it’s witty and fresh, but is constructed out of dialogue and characters you’ve seen countless times before.

The easiest summary is that I didn’t laugh out loud a single time during Resident Alien. Every opportunity to turn a plot point into something with a bit of intrigue was dashed against the easy out of low-hanging joke fruit. That said, the tail end of the season starts to show some backbone, sharpening Asta’s and Harry’s relationship and finally doing something with the sheriff and his deputy (Elizabeth Bowen) beyond using the former’s racism and sexism for shock value, suggesting that Resident Alien might possibly shape its way into something stronger for its second, already forthcoming season.