Alan Tudyk (“Harley Quinn”) looks like an alien. The way he contorts his face, the unmistakable coldness behind his eyes and, in the new Syfy pilot episode of “Resident Alien,” the lack of movement in his careful body all point to the same conclusion: It can’t just be an act.
Based on the comic book of the same name, “Resident Alien” is by no means the first story to follow a fish-out-of-water extraterrestrial pretending to be human. It’s a trope that’s been played around with since the beginning of science fiction. Hell, even “Captain Marvel” had a similar twist in 2019. But there’s something so endearing about “Resident Alien,” which was written with its predecessors at the front of its mind. It knows what it is, and it manages to find a loveable kind of black comedy that can only be achieved after a lifelong admiration for alien stories.
Tudyk plays Harry Vanderspiegel, an unearthly stranger who never meant to touch down on a planet of less evolved creatures. Until he can find his way out, he is forced to take on the role of a small-town doctor, working alongside Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko, “3022”), a human being he soon develops an affinity for despite having no regard for other carbon-based life.
It is perhaps only because we are so familiar with these kinds of stories that we can laugh so easily at the dark material it finds humor in. Well, that and Tudyk’s delightfully remorseless performance. Between the near-murder of a child and a shockingly hilarious severed brain scene, it’s clear the writers are unafraid to get wicked, setting up an upcoming season of unpredictable potential.
Legendary comedy writer Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”) once said, “the key for horror-comedy is to take the horror seriously.” This show, then, may stand as a counterpoint.
For every terrifyingly sinister moment, there is undeniable comedy at the heart of it. It’s the ironic understanding that we are on the side of the alien rather than the human, and this understanding serves not to cheapen the horror but to enrich it. It’s a delicate balancing act that is as twisted as it is charming.
If not careful, though, the exact same elements that made this first episode so special could soon work against it. As of now, it is quite obvious where the show is going to take us in terms of story. If all goes according to setup, Vanderspiegel will, through his companionship with Asta, learn why humanity is worth preserving. But there’s no inherent problem with the show following the expected route, so long as they can invent enough creative gimmicks and unexpected twists to maintain its freshness.
It’s nice to stumble upon a show that knows exactly what it is, as well as the ins and outs of the stories it evolved from. It doesn’t try to force itself on anything it isn’t meant to. There’s so much pleasure that emanates from watching people create stories they love. Clichés become clichés because they work, and when you can find new ways to spin them with enough passion, they can make the coveted jump from derivative to nostalgic. With the first episode of “Resident Alien,” all the potential for a great debut season is there — they just have to keep pushing.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.