TV aliens have always been funny, which is not to say the shows were always very good.
We had My Favorite Martian, Mork and Mindy, and the Great Gazoo, and while they were entertaining to some degree, the aliens were little more than wish-fulfillment props that could just as easily have been genies, witches, or superheroes.
But I’m seeing a new trend: humorous aliens who could only be aliens. No longer props for funny line delivery and wacky fish-out-of-water stories, they are specifically linked to the true-life tales of alien contact. Take, for example, this short from Chris and Jack:
And then there’s People of Earth, an underrated show with a quiet brilliance. The plot revolves around reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) as he travels to upstate New York to report on an alien abduction support group called StarCrossed. At first, he is completely baffled by the stories the group tells him, until he starts to remember his own experiences. Though not hilarious, the show is consistently charming. The creators are clearly familiar with what actual Experiencers describe, exploring topics like screen memories, alien implants, multiple alien species, positive vs. negative encounters, and even the fact that “experiencer” is the preferred moniker, as opposed to “abductee.”
As Executive Producer David Jenkins says, it’s the Larry David version of The X-Files. Here he is discussing his idea behind creating the show:
While The X-Files wasn’t (usually) humorous, it introduced pop culture to the Grays and alien abduction, giving aliens their own distinctive TV mythology. Some credit is also due to Twin Peaks, with its explorations of Project Blue Book and the idea of screen memories. The famous line “The owls are not what they seem” echoes stories Experiencers tell of seeing giant owls, deer, or rabbits after abduction encounters. People of Earth uses a screen memory of a talking deer as a regular motif.
The aliens of PoE are not ethereal or otherworldly, but quite human in their tendencies to be deeply flawed and petty. Jeff the Gray is all about procedure and getting things done. Don the Nordic is innocent and loving. Jonathan the reptilian is manipulative and obsessed with his looks. While these characterizations are funny on their own, they have their roots in typical abduction tales: grays are the worker bees, Nordics (as described my many Contactees) spread new age messages of peace and love, and reptilians are menacing shapeshifters who secretly control the world.
The Experiencers, ironically, are more alien; ostracized from society because of their bizarre beliefs in aliens, they struggle to maintain relationships in a world that doesn’t believe them. The show portrays them sympathetically and never mocks them or trades compassion for cheap laughs. PoE is unique in alien television in that it mines the real life stories of alien encounters for its humor, rather than just saying “aliens can do ANYTHING”.
Great show? No, but eminently watchable. I’d much rather watch this than a little green be-helmeted Martian granting wishes. I am sure there are many who would argue that there are better comedies with aliens in them, but I feel this is the first one that stands on its own as an alien comedy. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments.