Warning: Spoilers ahead
"Resident Alien," a new, extraterrestrial murder-mystery series on Syfy, uses humor and gritty intrigue to reinvent a classic sci-fi premise and deliver an easy-to-love show.
The new series, which premieres tonight (Jan. 27) on Syfy and which is based on the popular Dark Horse Comics series by co-creators Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, stars Alan Tudyk, who fans will remember from the cult-classic series "Firefly" as well as "Star Wars: Rogue One" and "Doom Patrol."
Tudyk plays an alien crash-lands on Earth — a well-worn sci-fi plot — and masquerades as a human, a local doctor named Harry Vanderspeigle. While working on a secret extraterrestrial mission, the alien attempts to blend into the community and pass as a "real human."
Tudyk's performance is undoubtedly the highlight of the series. He embodies the alien inhabiting Dr. Vanderspeigle's body, delivering earnest weirdness with the sincerity that only Tudyk is capable of. To capture the alien movements, facial expressions and dance moves of Dr. Vanderspeigle, Tudyk took a clowning class at Juilliard, "which helped because clowns are supposed to be mainly like children that were never told 'no.' They are very curious. They're bumbling, and they make mistakes," he told Space.com.
"They [clowns] are funny and Harry's funny," he said. Tudyk shared that he also pulled inspiration from his performances as Sonny in "I, Robot" and as K-2SO in "Rogue One."
Tudyk's alien character isn't just odd in his physical mannerisms, however. He also has a way with words. "He speaks his mind. He's very frank. He says things sometimes that you want to be able to say ... he's like a child in that way," Tudyk said.
"As long as he doesn't kill all of humanity, I think he might be likable," he added.
Scary, scary aliens
But "Resident Alien" isn't all fun and games, as the series kicks off with a mysterious death and some seriously gruesome interactions.
In fact, that's one of the most surprising things about the series. While "alien-crash-lands-on-Earth" shows like "My Favorite Martian" are more-often-than-not lighthearted fish out of water tales, "Resident Alien" has a few darker twists. In most moments, this makes for tense interpersonal drama that only thickens the viewer's relationship with the characters and their individual plights. However, in some moments, you're stuck thinking to yourself, "why is Alan Tudyk threatening to murder a child ... again?"
These odd violent moments in the otherwise blithe series can feel a bit out of place, but they do paint a very unique and distinct character. Dr. Vanderspeigle isn't just a bumbling alien finding his way in a small Colorado town. He's an alien who doesn't understand the importance of human life and whose frightening alien behaviors don't just make things awkward, they could get him into serious trouble.
Still, it is bizarre and intriguing to watch Dr. Vanderspeigle desperately try to interact with the local townspeople. The viewer is also privy to his inner thoughts. So, while he walks away from an awkward conversation with his limbs stiff and odd, you can hear him thinking about how he's not just the smartest, but also the most handsome person on Earth.
An outstanding cast
Dr. Vanderspeigle's bumbling and sometimes menacing inability to accurately masquerade as a human is most notable in his interactions with the rest of the characters. But, while the townspeople are often exchanging weird glances about his general oddness, his bluntness and honesty are endearing to many around him, even leading to a few odd romantic escapades.
In addition to Tudyk, the rest of the cast really delivers and helps to mold the story and create a narrative that is truly unique to the series. For example, actor Sara Tomko ("Once Upon A Time") plays Asta Twelvetrees, a nurse of Native American heritage, who together with her family helps to show Dr. Vanderspeigle why humans gather and what they really mean to one another.
"I am so honored to be able to play this role, especially because of my Native American heritage," Tomko told Space.com. "What I am most excited about, however, is the fact that I have Native American heritage but I don't belong to any specific tribe. I'm still trying to figure out where I fit in personally. And I feel like that is a huge theme in relation to how Asta feels," she said, adding that because she [Asta] was adopted and is dealing with personal grief, Asta Twelvetrees struggles with feeling like she fits in.
"I think it's really beautiful to be able to portray a character who has a family surrounding her that says that she belongs, yet she herself feels internally confused and isolated," Tomko said.
"So when she meets Harry, it's such a relatable storyline and I think it's really beautiful to kind of be a symbol of "other" which is something that I feel very closely to and so does Harry."
The show does what I have personally never really seen before: The series portrayed a Native American family and community without centering around stereotypes and tropes.
The series shows "what it's like to live on or off the reservation" today. Showrunner Chris Sheridan "really made it a really important part of this show to get Native writers, artists, musicians [and] actors so that we could really fill out the [Native American] community with what is true to this day," Tomk said.
The show works to honor where modern Native American people "actually fit in and how we belong and whose land this really is and then showcasing that and showing what it's like for someone who's in that community, raised by that community, to maybe feel like she doesn't know where she fits in and that just feels really relatable for me and for Asta," Tomko added.
The outrageous and sincere new series also features performances from actors Corey Reynolds ("The Closer") as the bold and brash Sheriff Mike Thompson, Alice Wetterlund ("People of Earth") as the "lost soul" local bartender D'arcy Bloom and Levi Fiehler ("Mars") as Ben Hawthorne, a mayor struggling with self-esteem issues.
Could we handle an alien invasion?
Now, while watching a show like "Resident Alien," it's fun to think what would happen if there were a humanoid alien walking around on our planet's surface. Could we handle it? How would humanity realistically respond?
So I asked Tudyk, and he said: "I think that there's aliens here ... the tardigrade is an alien, that seems like an alien to me ... it's already here."
(Disclaimer: there is no evidence to support that tardigrades are aliens.)
"I think, like most humans, I'm interested in some contact. I think it's time ... we're ready." However, in thinking about it a little more, Tudyk changed his tone. "I guess ... we can't even handle each other," he said. But still, "maybe it would bring us together as a race," he said.
For example, he said, if aliens landed on Earth and tried to kill all humans, we could, as a species, "join forces to attack the aliens," Tudyk said. "People seem to be very gung-ho on war. We could do that. That would be a way that we could come together," he said with a laugh.
"Resident Alien" will air Wednesdays on Syfy at 10 p.m. EST (0300 GMT Thursdays), starting tonight (Jan. 27).
Email Chelsea Gohd at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.