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

Just Posted

Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. Toxic illicit drugs have claimed the lives of 498 British Columbians in the first three months of 2021, said the BC Coroners Service. (BCEHS photo)
Increase in overdose cases a concern: Fort St. James RCMP

Police issue public health announcement

Jim Woodruff from the Vanderhoof Curling Club has won volunteer of the year by Curl BC. (Photo submitted)
Jim Woodruff awarded Curl BC Volunteer of the Year

“It really is fun making nice ice.”

A groundbreaking ceremony for Cluculz Lake’s new fire hall will take place Tuesday, June 22. The current fire hall is able to only store one apparatus. (Photo submitted)
New fire hall on the way for Cluculz Lake

Approximate $950,000 facility anticipated to be completed by this fall

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen outside a hospital in Jammu, India, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP/Channi Anand)
B.C. donates $500K to Red Cross COVID-19 relief efforts in India

The money will provide oxygen cylinders and ambulances for patients in communities grappling with the virus

Superintendent Aaron Paradis, community services officer with the Surrey RCMP, during a media availability about a recent drug bust in Port Coquitlam. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Police seize 13 million ‘potentially fatal doses’ of pure fentanyl at B.C. drug lab

The evidence was seized at large, illicit drug manufacturing site in Port Coquitlam

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth debates the province’s latest measure to control crime, March 10, 2021. The legislation allows police to impound vehicles used to transport weapons and further restricts sale of vehicle and body armour. (B.C. legislature video)
B.C. seeking ways to ‘name and shame’ gangsters, minister says

Mike Farnworth appeals to family members to talk to police

Jonathan Prest had to climb way up to the top of a dead red cedar tree to rescue a terrified cat, but he made it up and down successfully. (Facebook photos)
Tree cutter rescues cat stuck 100 feet up a dead and dried-out cedar

Jonathan Prest put himself in extreme peril to get a terrified cat out of a dangerous situation

The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)
School district’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

Backlash grows over ‘pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership’

Italian-Canadian prisoners at the Kananaskis prisoner of war camp in Alberta. (University of Calgary/Contributed)
Italian moved to Okanagan with hope; he ended up being sent to a WWII internment camp

Raymond Lenzi shares his grandfather’s story ahead of Canada’s planned formal apology to Italian-Canadians

Then-minister Rich Coleman, escorted by Victoria Police, makes his way to the east wing amid a protest blocking the legislature entrances before the throne speech in Victoria, B.C., Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. money laundering inquiry testimony ends today with reappearance of Rich Coleman

Responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, Coleman been recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month

Colin Dowler rests in hospital recuperating from wounds suffered from a grizzly bear attack north of Campbell River. He was able to end the struggle by stabbing the bear in the neck with a knife like the one he is holding. Photo submitted
‘Bad-ass dude that took on a grizzly bear’ doesn’t let 2019 B.C. attack bring him down

Campbell River’s Colin Dowler gets on with his life as his rehabilitation continues

Most Read