|Alien Nation: The Complete Series (1989)
Starring: Gary Graham, Eric Pierpoint, Michele Scarabeli, Lauren Woodland, Sean Six, Terri Treas, Jeff Marcus, Ron Fassler, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs
Anyone who saw the original theatrical release, "Alien Nation," probably wasn’t surprised to see it turned into a weekly TV series; the concept – a race of aliens called the Tantanese, who were formerly a slave race, land in Los Angeles and attempt to indoctrinate themselves into human society, finding themselves on the receiving end of bigotry – was built to be expanded upon. Plus, the Fox Network was still new in 1989 and wasn’t afraid to take chances with the material it put on the air. What requires the greatest suspension of disbelief, however, isn’t the plot but, rather, trying to imagine that Gary Graham, who plays Detective Matt Sykes, is supposed to be the same character that was played by James Caan in the movie version; the resemblance between the two is not exactly what you’d call uncanny.
But, seriously, folks, the biggest problem with “Alien Nation” is getting past the two-hour pilot, which, in its attempts to lay down the premise and show the racism experienced by the aliens by comparing it to the segregation of blacks, is so laughably heavy handed at times that it’s tough not to give up on it. Thankfully, the show quickly evolves into an extremely enjoyable sci-fi drama with lots of injections of humor to keep things moving along. In particular, the aliens’ Earth names were taken from fictional characters and historical figures, so you’re never far from a cheap but legitimate laugh at Tantanese named Albert Einstein, Charlotte Bronte, Buster Keaton, or Jean Paul Sartre. Sci-fi fans will enjoy the way the history and intricacies of the Tantanese society are explored, such as where their erogenous zones are located (the bridge of the nose and the small of the back are two of them), how they procreate (it takes three to tango, as explored in an episode by that title), what they eat (the line “just the leftover weasel will be fine” speaks volumes), and the myths and legends to which they subscribe, like Tagdot, a mass murderer who cut off his victims’ hands. Oh, and don’t get them anywhere near salt water; it’s like acid to the so-called “Newcomers.” What makes the show so imminently watchable, however, is what Vincent in “Pulp Fiction” referred to as “the little differences” between humans and Tantanese. Every episode has at least one classic exchange between Matt Sykes and one of the Tantanese; usually, it’s his partner, George (played by Eric Pierpoint), but one of the best moments comes when Sykes is trying to introduce a Tantanese female friend to the wonders of the Three Stooges. She watches the screen in horror, then turns to him and announces, “I don’t understand why anyone would hire them as carpenters. They’re totally incompetent, and they’re destroying the house!” (Actually, this may simply be proof that women really are from Venus...)
The only thing is, if you really get into this show, then, by the end of it, you’re going to be so pissed off that you’ll want to throw this box set at your TV; the series ended on a cliffhanger…and it wasn’t resolved for several years, when a series of TV movies based on the show appeared on Fox. Given that it’ll mostly be pre-existing fans who purchase the set, you’d think the least Fox could’ve done was either include the film which resolved the cliffhanger – "Alien Nation: Dark Horizon" – or at least release it separately. Instead, the studio just provides further proof that they’re interested in doing the least amount of work possible to make a profit. (They’ve also gone the el cheapo route by going with six double-sided discs.) It’s some consolation that director Kenneth Johnson provides audio commentary on the pilot, where he discusses both that episode and others throughout the series’ run, but, otherwise, the only special feature is a “behind the scenes” featurette that was made to promote the series when it originally premiered, and, I swear to God, it is less than four minutes long. Way to put some effort into it, Fox.
There’s been no word on the future release of the aforementioned TV movies making it to DVD in the future, but one presumes Fox will wait and see how well this box set sells. (In other words, holding one’s breath is unadvisable for the time being.) In the meantime, if you enjoy sci-fi blended with cop drama – and, frankly, who doesn’t? – “Alien Nation” will be a worthwhile purchase.