Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Alien Nation : The Series (1989-1990)

Following on from the original film , the Alien Nation TV series continues the story of a "future" (the series is set roughly in 1991/1992) United States which becomes inhabited by 250,000 aliens after their ship crash lands in the Mojave desert.

Although the series was intended to be a direct follow on to the film, there were numerous small changes made to characters and back story, for example, the two main characters, Matthew Sykes (renamed "Sikes" in the TV series) and "newcomer" Sam "George" Fransisco (renamed simply "George Fransisco" in the series, his original pun name said to have been foisted on him by a bored immigration official) are now played by Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint as opposed to James Caan and Mandy Patinkin respectively.
In addition, Georges family was slightly changed, With his son now being named "Buck" instead of "Richard" as given in the film.

I first encountered this show as part of Yorkshire televisions "late night" weekend slot, as it usually aired on a friday or saturday night during the early/mid 90s. Itwas strange as i thought that there were at least 2 or 3 series of this show made, the series itself consisted of a single series of 22 episodes, each lasting 47 minutes, and the concept is explored further than it was in the film.
Several new aspects are added to the background of the "newcomers", whose race is named officially as the "Tenctonese", although the pejorative terms "Slag" or "Spongehead" are used by people to refer to them on occasion, a point which in the first episode, George explains to Sikes that calling him a Slag is the equivalent of calling someone a "nigger" or a "kike". Although the newcomers show they too have prejudice by referring to humans as "terts".

The series does have a couple of plot arcs, and each episode generally consists of two story lines running simultaneously in some way.  Themes explored include:-

  • The culture shock that ensues from humans suddenly having 250,000 completely alien people dropped on them, which leads to various racist themes being explored, such as jealousy that the newcomers are generally stronger, smarter and more resilient than  humans. So much so that during the course of some episodes, a human centric "purist" movement is shown to exist, which spreads various rumours and lies about the newcomers. The irony of this is is that many black, oriental and Hispanic people end up repeating the same things about newcomers as what was once said about themselves, for no other reason than to express hatred towards something different.
  • The new types of crime that spring up once the newcomers begin integrating into human society. Although a lot of this crime is pretty much the same as human crime (drug traffiking, prostitution, theft, murder, gang warfare etc) the problems end up becoming more complex being as that they involve an alien culture, and as such, many of the human characters do not always understand what is happening. 
  • Inter species relationships are also explored, with Sikes slowly becoming more and more attracted towards his newcomer neighbour "Cathy", as well as a few episodes depicting both aliens and newcomers in mixed or same sex relationships (it is also shown that the newcomers have no taboos about same sex relationships amongst either their own people or inter species, although some do have prejudice about mixed sex inter species relationships).
  •  An interesting sub plot throughout the series is the introduction of a ruling class of newcomers called "overseers", nearly all of whom went unnoticed on their arrival on Earth and all of whom seek to once again take control of the "lesser" newcomers. George finds the overseers detestable, as do most of the other newcomers once they have been freed from their influence. One episode deals with a terrorist obtaining a cannister of the mind control gas that the overseers used to keep the slaves in line, and several episodes deal with the police finding and closing down operations to create "Jabroka", a drug which has roughly the same effect on newcomers as crack cocaine does on humans.
  • Sikes and Georges ongoing struggle to make arrests despite interference from the ambitious and somewhat buffoonish Captain Grazer.

The series is unashamedly a "buddy cop" type program, but also has elements of being a sci-fi soap opera, with many of the "B" plots being little more than simple "aliens/humans not understanding each other" type affairs, but for some reason, it really works well, and quickly establishes a core group of likeable characters performing believable actions within their almost normal environment.
There are numerous examples of comedy in there as well, ranging from simple cultural misunderstandings (such as Georges wife being utterly repulsed by the concept of Halloween), right down to instances of heavily satirical and/or black humour. 

But, despite how well the series was received, its days were numbered as after only a single series. This came as somewhat of a surprise to viewers, and to the production crew, who had expected to at least get a second series based on the shows approval ratings. The problem was, the show aired on FOXs "Fox Network" during its early days as a prime time TV channel, and, due to the network not attracting as much investment from advertisers as they had expected, cuts had to be made to the network budget, and, Alien Nation, being an expensive show to make due to the large amount of special effects and make up needing to be applied to actors playing aliens, ranked as one of the shows which had to go in order to save money.

The story didn't end there though, with five feature length TV movies being produced between 1994 and 1997 which picked up from where the series left off and resolved all the unfinished story lines.

The show still enjoys somewhat of a cult following today, and is one of my firm favourites.

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