Like most small towns – well, most small towns in TV shows – Patience, Colo., has odd folks who feel like they don’t fit in.
But in “Resident Alien” (debuting at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, on Syfy), one guy is far odder than the rest. That’s Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle … or, to be precise, the outer-space alien who killed the doctor and then assumed his human form.
“Everybody has the same experience,” Alice Wetterlund, who plays D’arcy, a friendly bartender, told the Television Critics Association. “We’re all trying to fit in, in our own way.”
It’s just that this Harry (shown here) has to try harder. He’s not from around here.
He’s “exploring what it is to be human, … which is very weird and awkward,” said Sara Tomko, who plays Astra, his co-worker at the health clinic.
That might sound like a situation-comedy – a new Mork or Balki or Sheldon or such. But it’s from Steven Spielberg’s company and works surprisingly well as a science-fiction drama, brightened by occasional batches of humor.
Writer-producer Chris Sheridan has a background in comedy, including two decades with “Family Guy,” but he insists he has a serious connection to sci-fi:
He and his wife were walking a Bahamas beach on their honeymoon, he said, when they saw a bright light. “In two seconds, the thing was over us; I swear to God this is true. It was triangular and it had, like, six circular lights on the bottom of it.” It swept the beach with its lights, settled on the couple for a moment … and then vanished. “I’m not saying it was aliens – although obviously it was.”
So he had a natural interest in space-alien tales. When the Amblin TV people sent him the “Resident Alien” graphic novel, he jumped at the chance to adapt it.
That was five years and three months ago; this would take a while. In fact, the TCA session quoted here happened a year ago, with Syfy expecting to launch “Resident Alien” last summer.; then came COVID, pushing it back a half-year.
There are some key changes from the graphic novel. The murder mystery was resolved in that first novel; now it will sprawl across the season. The setting will still be Colorado, but the filming is in Vancouver. Readers of the novel always see the alien’s true face; TV viewers will usually see the human face that he assumes.
That brings a rich acting experience for Alan Dudyk, who is used to odd roles. He’s ranged from Wash in “Firefly” to Mr. Nobody in “Doom Patrol”; in voice work, he’s played Clayface, Dangerboat, Shipwreck, Devil and lots of kings – King Orm, King River, King Candy.
Now he plays someone who keeps staring from an emotional distance. It’s like “standing behind yourself, looking out,” Dudyk said. “It’s like he’s wearing a mask – a mask that looks like me – as he’s looking at the world.”
Then again, others also feel out-of-place, including a sheriff who wants to be called Big Black. He “really doesn’t trust anybody,” said Craig Reynolds, who plays him. “Maybe it does make him a little nervous, being around all these mountain White folks.”
Astra, who is American Indian, also might feel “the general alienation theme,” Tomko said. “All of our characters have things that keep us slightly apart.”
Even the mayor – a white-bread, ‘50s-TV kind of guy – feels alienated, because his job just got more difficult. Levi Fiehler, who plays him, says he knows the feeling. “As an actor, kind of early in my career, I just want to do a good job. And I’m usually pretty anxious, just like the mayor.”
All of them grope at life, sometimes feeling like an alien. Only one of them really is.