Exclusive: 'Resident Alien' showrunner Chris Sheridan talks adapting comic books to the small screen

The wait is finally over! "Firefly" alumnus Alan Tudyk is back on television screens everywhere with "Resident Alien," the new SyFy show based on Dark Horse Comics' cult comic book, premiering as a 10-episode, live-action series this Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 10 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT Jan. 28). 

Tudyk plays a marooned extraterrestrial stuck on Earth after his spaceship crash lands during a doomsday mission to eradicate humankind. Learning all he can about humans from watching reruns of "Law & Order," the stranded alien must masquerade as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel, an odd hometown doctor in the Rocky Mountain village of Patience, Colorado. There, Harry tries to blend in among the town's colorful residents while attempting to unravel a local murder mystery.

The quirky show is based on a comic book of the same name, created by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse and first serialized in "Dark Horse Presents" in 2011. Several miniseries have continued the bizarre fish-out-of-water story, most recently with last year's "Resident Alien: Your Ride's Here."

Related: 'Resident Alien' on Syfy reinvents the classic 'alien-crash-lands-on Earth'-tale

Space.com recently spoke with "Family Guy's" Emmy-nominated scribe Chris Sheridan, who acts as "Resident Alien's" head writer and showrunner, on what attracted him to the offbeat project, the challenges of bringing the material from page to screen and why this is the perfect vehicle for Tudyk's innumerable comedic skills.

Space.com: What first lured you to the "Resident Alien" comic and what did you hope to bring to a live-action TV adaptation?

Chris Sheridan: I first read that comic about five years ago when Amblin Television sent it to me. I thought what Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse did was brilliant. Looking at humanity through the eyes of an alien I thought was so fantastic. What I wanted to do, and I had to make some changes to bring it to TV, was more of the same. They did such a great job. The biggest thing I did differently was I made Harry a little less benign than he is in the graphic novels. He comes in a little darker. And I wanted to do that so he'd have an arc over the course of the series. As he's slowly observing human nature and learning what it's like to be human, we can watch his journey toward that as well.

Mostly I wanted to entertain people, and I was hoping it could be a mix of a bunch of different genres with the sci-fi and the drama. Hopefully with the drama it can also be funny and emotional. It's what I like watching and it happens a lot more in movies these days than in TV. There's not a lot of shows out there that are doing a bunch of tones at once, but I wanted to try it. I hoped that it could work, but it seems we got lucky with the cast, everyone is incredible, and it seems to have fallen together.

Space.com: What were some of the necessary changes you needed to make in adapting "Resident Alien" from a hit comic book?

Sheridan: Yeah, it's a good question. The first thing that I realized I had to do, for anyone who's read the graphic novels, you see Harry as an alien the whole time. People in the world see him as a human, but we never really see what they see as a human, but we're looking at an alien on the page. I knew I had to change that. It's just too expensive to have an actor in a mask the entire time. 

Plus, I think TV audiences connect with people more than creatures. So I felt like having an actor's face that they can connect to was important. So that was a big change. We still do our best to remind the audience that he's an alien through reflections in the mirror and there's a kid in the show that can see him as an alien. 

Alan Tudyk as the stranded alien Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel. (Image credit: James Dittinger/SYFY)

I also added the character of Darci, who I felt was important to add because I added a whole backstory for Asta about this marriage she was in that she left. She's going through a really tough time in the show. So I wanted to add a character to be friends with her to balance out the negative stuff with someone more positive and funny, and to bring out her comedy and her lighter side. 

I wanted to stay close to the soul of what Peter and Steve did in the graphic novels, which is really try to sink into the observational nature of looking at human nature through the eyes of this alien who's stepping through this world almost like a child, trying to figure things out.

Space.com: Alan Tudyk truly shines in "Resident Alien." How did his casting come about and why do you think this is the perfect vehicle for his multifaceted talents?

Sheridan: This is the perfect vehicle for Alan Tudyk. We had seen a bunch of great actors that came in for the show to audition for the character of Harry. But it wasn't until Alan came in that it really, really clicked. He brought a great combination of oddness in his performance, but also humanity that sort of grounds him in this world. 

He walks this wonderful tightrope of feeling like an outsider that doesn't fit in, but it's hard not to welcome him because he needs help. People feel for him a little bit and may comment that he's different, but he approaches things like a child and there's something earnest about that. 

And he's very honest, because he doesn't know not to be honest and there's something that draws people to him because of that. There's elements to his performance that he brought to it that make it a character only he could do.

"Resident Alien," a new science fiction series about a mystery-solving alien stranded on Earth, has roots in comic books. (Image credit: Dark Horse Comics)

Space.com: What do you hope audiences take away from "Resident Alien" and what can viewers look forward to as the season unfolds?

Sheridan: I hope they take away a sense of positivity about the human condition. We've got an alien who comes in bent on destruction who starts realizing that humans may be redeemable and there are good things about humans. There are so many negative things that are happening these days in our world anyway that I hope people watch it and start feeling the same thing. 

Harry is an outsider but he's being embraced by this community and he's the one who didn't trust anyone, but is learning how to trust and drop the walls and accept humans. And realize that maybe when they work together and connect with each other that they can do anything. I'm hoping people watching the show can be hopeful that we can be better and we're all connected and can learn to love and trust each other. 

Stranded alien Harry (Alan Tudyk) poses as human to disguise his true nature. (Image credit: James Dittinger/SYFY)

The journey for the season is more of what you'll see in the pilot. There's a lot of funny stuff, there's a lot of drama, there's a murder unfolding that will be solved before the end of the season. I think it's a fun ride. There's a lot of things for everybody. And there's a lot of emotionally connected stuff. I think people will fall in love with these characters.

SyFy's "Resident Alien" debuts on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 10 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT Jan. 28).

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.