Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Hawk Ripjaw checks out Resident Alien, Nick Luciano recommends the Switchblade Sisters podcast, Hal Kitchen is listening to Ariana Grande’s Positions (deluxe), and Brien Allen is excited about the upcoming Foundation TV series.
Hawk: There are a few ways I could sell Resident Alien to you, such as how it feels like a modern live-action Invader Zim, or how it evokes the remote frozen town mood of Northern Exposure, or how IT’S WASH FROM FIREFLY PLAYING AN ALIEN PRETENDING TO BE A HUMAN. Regardless, the show, based on the Dark Horse Comics publication of the same name by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, is prime goofball escapism.
Having crash-landed on Earth in the snowy Colorado town of Patience, “Harry” (Alan Tudyk) has killed and taken on the form of the doctor living on the outskirts of town. Once the town’s “official” doctor is found dead, Harry has to finally venture down from his cabin (and his mission to recover his ship) to solve the mystery—his first real test in blending in with humans.
Most of the humor in the first few episodes follow the “fish out of water” trope, with Harry’s colossal inability to act and talk like a normal human arousing the suspicion of other townspeople, but constantly written off by others as him just being a bit quirky. This, of course, convinces him that he is blending in perfectly. Elsewhere, suspicion is dispelled by an interruption of another situation in the episode. The creatively freeform model of Invader Zim allowed episodes to get as dark and absurd as possible, but the serialized nature of Resident Alien makes Harry’s behavior consequential—the clock doesn’t reset when the credits roll, so Harry has to continuously adapt to the humans’ growing suspicion.
It cannot be overstated how outstanding Alan Tudyk’s performance is here, particularly on a physical level. He doesn’t miss a single beat and convincingly plays an alien trying unconvincingly to play a human. From movement to overall gait, to eating food, to bizarre vocal inflection, to just his weirdly menacing or otherwise blank eyes, this is a perfect outlet for Tudyk’s acting chops and should open the door to even more interesting roles for him.
It turns out that some humans—one in thousands—have a genetic mutation that sees right through “Harry’s” human visage, and that one such human lives in Patience. Young Max, when looking at Harry, simply sees the alien. This leads to a hilarious dynamic that hearkens back to the intense rivalry between Zim and Dib, in that this one human immediately spots the imposter. Showrunner Chris Sheridan (a writer on Family Guy among other things) has a strong grasp of this dynamic and it’s one of the funniest bits of the show so far.
There’s also a really great emotional undercurrent to the show so far, as his new buddy Asta (Sara Tomko) grapples with her grief for deceased friend Sam, and Harry—whose species generally regards emotions and weakness as, no pun intended, alien—feels empathy for her. It’s a strange sensation for him, but an important bit of character work as his empathy for his newfound friend and the resulting curiosity overpowers his natural instincts. He even turns around and risks his entire mission to save Asta from getting physically assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, nearly killing the man to protect his friend. It also draws a nice line between alien and human, revealing them to be not all that different besides physical appearance, and slowly letting Harry learn that human emotions are okay.
I’m really looking forward to what Resident Alien does next, and the first three episodes are already extremely promising for a goofy, quirky, and heartfelt comedy.