This image released by SYFY shows Meredith Garretson, left, and Alan Tudyk in the new series "Resident Alien." (James Dittinger/SYFY via AP)

B.C.-shot ‘Resident Alien’ invader gets lift-off with viewers

New Syfy series catching on, proving TV doesn’t have to come from premium cable

“Resident Alien,” a new Syfy series that caught the attention of veteran TV critic Rob Owen and approving viewers, is evidence that inventive shows exist outside premium cable and streaming services.

“It’s been a while since there’s been a cable show, a basic cable show on USA or Syfy or another one of those channels, that’s struck me as something I would go back and give another look,” Owen, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist, said of the comic book-inspired series that arrived in January.

Shot in the Greater Vancouver area, and in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, the hour-long dramedy about an extraterrestrial being stuck in a small town, “Resident Alien” gained early traction in the ratings. It pulled in a bigger audience for its second episode than its first, a rarity in the peak-TV era of dizzying decisions about what’s worth your time and money.

RELATED: Resident Alien brings Vancouver Island to the small screen with January premiere

RELATED: Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

The numbers are on a modest scale but with promise enough to gladden the heart of Syfy’s parent company, NBCUniversal, which gave the series a robust blastoff that included a NBC network promotional spot starring a UFO.

“We launch shows all the time and we want to pretend that every show can be the next big hit,” said NBCUniversal executive Jeff Bader, who heads its TV programming strategy group. “But it’s actually rare that you have a show that people seem to respond to … and this is one of those shows.”

The Rotten Tomatoes website tallied robust approval from critics and viewers, both in the 90th percentile. “Resident Alien” airs 10 p.m. EST Wednesday.

A key element: Alan Tudyk’s deftly layered comic performance as stranded alien Capt. Ha Re, who takes a crash course in human conduct and speech from “Law & Order” reruns. His otherworldly appearance is mostly cloaked with the appearance of an Earthling he killed, the memorably named Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle.

Tudyk (“Firefly,” “Suburgatory” and numerous TV and movie voice roles) milks such abundant nuance out of Harry’s often heavy-lidded, deadpan expression that it begs comparison to the master, classic film star Buster Keaton.

Series creator Chris Sheridan gladly raves about Tudyk’s work, but he was determined that the quirky residents of fictional Patience, Colorado, be as compelling as the alien in their midst. The cast includes Sara Tomko (“Sneaky Pete”) as Asta Twelvetrees, assistant to Vanderspeigle; Corey Reynolds (“Selma”) as town sheriff Mike Thompson, and Judah Prehn as Max, the boy who sees Harry as the menacing interloper he is. (Spoiler alert: Ha Re’s mission is to wipe out humans.)

“If the alien never showed in Patience, there was enough going on in town and the characters are three-dimensional enough that people would want to watch it,” Sheridan said. “Then if you take that and drop this alien layer over the top of it you have something real that the alien is observing.”

The show’s escapist comedy and Harry’s grudging attitude shift toward Earthlings suit a pandemic-weary country grappling with political and social divisions, Sheridan said.

Superficially, “it looks like it’s just a show about an alien coming down and trying to destroy people,” he said. “But when you really follow it, it becomes a show about unity and how humans are stronger when they work together, and how connected we all are.”

For TV critic Owen, “Resident Alien” recalls the “Blue Sky” label that USA Network, Syfy’s NBCUniversal cable sibling, gave its lighthearted dramas that aired circa 2005 to 2016. Among them: “Psych” and “Suits,” the latter now best known for co-starring future Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle.

Such “Blue-Sky DNA” largely vanished from basic cable as it gravitated toward darker dramas, Owen said, with “Mr. Robot” an example of subsequent efforts to compete in a TV world flooded by edgy fare on streaming platforms.

So how can a series on a niche channel like Syfy compete? With the heft of Comcast-subsidiary NBCUniversal behind it. The creative strengths of “Resident Alien” aside, its promising start demonstrates that even the right series at the right time benefits from a juggernaut promotional and scheduling effort.

Pre-pandemic, the series enjoyed a fall 2019 preview at New York Comic Con, an early-bird approach to stoking enthusiasm employed by other movie and TV projects. In January, NFL Sports was enlisted to air a series trailer during the Baltimore-Buffalo NFL playoff game. Preceding the clip: a narrator announcement of a “special flyover” — not by a Stealth jet, but a visual effects-generated UFO swooping over Bills Stadium.

Then came repeated airings of the pilot, including a whopping 10 times on Syfy and a simulcast on USA, and showings on NBCUniversal’s E! and Bravo channels to introduce the series to different TV audiences.

In ratings for the first two episodes of “Resident Alien” in their initial Syfy airings combined with the next three days — an extended window that media companies say more accurately reflects today’s on-demand viewing — the second episode drew 581,000 more viewers than the first (2.765 million vs. 2.184 million). That’s the biggest week-over-week increase for a cable or broadcast drama debut since “Outlander” in 2014.

With the sci-fi genre a growing part of all TV platforms (“The Mandalorian” on Disney+ among the examples), could that be a key part of the appeal?

“I think that contributes,” Bader said. “But there’s something different with this show, because Syfy has launched other genre shows that have not launched like this. So there’s just something in this that people are liking.”

Lynn Elber, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Debra Lynn photo
Mysterious smoke cloud seen in Seavac Centre

Fire crews did a thorough sweep of the centre.

North Island Gazette file photo of Port McNeill council.
Heated conversation occurs at Port McNeill council over policy request

Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom wants to see a change in the… Continue reading

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
The Port Alice pulp mill site is being ‘recycled’

Bankruptcy company is overseeing de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring.

Port Hardy Senior Citizens’ Society president Rosaline Glynn holds up the certificate from B.C. Premier John Horgan next to Loaves & Fishes director Peter Sinclair, vice president Kris Huddlestan, and Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas. (Submitted photo)
Port Hardy council to nominate Glynn for the Order of British Columbia

Glynn’s nomination was endorsed unanimously by council.

Emergency personnel crews on scene assisting BCEHS with patient care. (Port Hardy Fire Rescue photo)
Speed and alcohol believed to be the cause of Saturday night car crash

More information on the crash could potentially be released at a later date.

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ in Metchosin

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

Most Read