Alien Nation, the television series, takes off where Alien Nation, the movie with James Caan and Mandy Patinkin, ended. Gary Graham plays Detective Sykes and Eric Pierpoint plays Newcomer or Slag detective George (Sam) Francisco. The pilot even includes footage from the movie in a few flashbacks and in the opening credits. It also pretty much takes for granted the viewer has seen the original movie. The series, which aired on the FOX network starting on September 18, 1989, lasted but one year but left an indelible impression with science fiction fans and spawned some five follow-up made for TV movies. In many ways, with its alien language and spotted aliens Alien Nation foreshadows Star Trek The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine with its Klingon language and Trills.
The 2-hour (on TV, some 90 minutes on DVD) pilot episode of Alien Nation establishes a few central characters around Sykes and George. It also spends time dealing with George's family life and his problems with his teenage son (the weirdly named for a science fiction television series Sean Six). Unfortunately, the pilot also tries to deal with too many things at the same time. There is the mystery of how Sykes' previous partner really dies, the mystery around the Overseers (those who controlled the Newcomers / Tenctonese / Slags on their slave spaceship), something to do with some blue ooze, stuff to do with a group of Purists who want the aliens to "go back where they came from" -which allows for a few moments where the not so subtle subtext of Blacks and Whites living together is made obviously evident complete with heroic musical background, and, finally, something about a giant cockroach.
Fortunately, the rest of Alien Nation the TV show kept the perfect mix of humor, action, detective work, and social commentary that made the movie so interesting so the show becomes a lot more fun to watch and interesting after the heavy-handed and very busy pilot. Alien Nation quickly establishes it is basically a cop and buddy show with a science fiction tone. It also widens its interest beyond the relationship between Sykes and George and makes George's family and Sykes' Tenctonese neighbor an integral part of the show. Comic relief is established with the Uncle Moodri character who moves in with George's family. You also have to smirk at the names of some of the Tenctonese characters like Henry James, a cop, Mary Shelley and Dallas Fort Worth, young starlets and prostitutes, Huey Long, the name George gives himself as an adult film producer -and why no one in the real world has thought of that one, I'll never know. Another cool one is Buster Keaton, a guy under the witness protection program a hit man wants to silence.
The writing here is pretty decent and there are a few very funny lines tossed in here and there while the story concentrates on the police work and alien stuff. For example, George, frustrated because he feels he is not a good parent, throws down a book in disgust:
George: And this Mr. Spock book doesn't help!
Sykes: That's Dr. Spock. Mr. Spock was one of you guys.
The funniest episode is Real Men. he episode opens in a gym where a Tentconese wants to use the weights, This annoys the human jocks and one hairy musclehead says to another hairy musclehead, "Next thing they'll be letting gorillas in here." This is also the episode where George is pregnant and the writers sure have fun with that, turning various pregnant lady cliches on their head. A good laugh comed when Sykes tells George he is not going to tell his girlfriend he is upset about something she did because she should be able to tell he is upset and why he is upset. Does this remind any male of the time when they asked their mate, "What's wrong, Honey?" and she replied, "Oh, nothing!" ?
The series continuously explores the differences and tensions between Tenctonese and human, between George and Sykes, and Sykes' interest in Newcomer neighbor Cathy. Alien Nation The Complete Series manages to balance the comedy of the situation and the formula for the basic cop buddy show. Good stuff.
The only problem here is that the series was cancelled after the first season so you never know what happens after the cliffhanger finale.
Alien Nation: The TV Movie (Pilot)
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