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Welcome to the town of Patience, Colorado! A place where the winters are long, the Main Street is short, the whiskey is poured double, and the bodies are buried, well, not all that deep. Oh, and its most recent addition to the population happens to be an alien infiltrating the human race while wearing the skin of a man he murdered.
Buckle up, because we're going to get all existentially extraterrestrial in here.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers ahead for Resident Alien Season 1, Episode 1, "Pilot."**
Those familiar with the plot paradigm "fish out of water" may think they're prepared for Resident Alien… but believe us, you're not. That's because in this case, the "fish" is a giant, four-armed, iridescent alien, the "water" some far-off galaxy, and the "out of" a town so dense with interpersonal drama, it's like if The X-Files were written by Anton Chekhov.
But first thing's first: backstory.
On a stealth mission to Earth, said alien's ship is struck by lightning, loses control, and crashes into the snowy mountains that ring Patience. Grounded, the space invader hobbles to the nearest refuge: the lakeside vacation cabin of Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, M.D., played by the fantastically versatile Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). In short order, the alien chucks the good doctor into the ice-cold lake, disguises himself as Harry a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and makes himself at home.
And by "at home" we mean: at home. Harry goes full-on hermit, his only connections to the outside world being the occasional fishing trip to try and dredge up the body of the real Vanderspeigle, and his bingeing of syndicated Law & Order episodes for ethnographic research.
Regrettably, Harry's reclusiveness deprives him of enjoying all that Patience has to offer: ruddy-faced youths rocketing snowballs and flipping birdies at each other; the local watering hole serving homemade moonshine strong enough to fuel a 737; an inspiring, but also sobering, town motto "59 Died So That One May Live," commemorating the honorable deaths of 60 miners crushed by a collapsing mine after trying to save one of their own. It's the very epitome of middle Americana bliss.
But don't let appearances fool you; as Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko) says, the town "has an underbelly" — and, may we add, love handles to that underbelly. We're tipped off to this fact when Harry is hauled into Patience proper by Sheriff Mike Thompson, aka "Big Black" (Corey Reynolds) to perform a forensic exam on the corpse of the town's only full-time physician, Sam Hodges, dead from multiple, supposedly self-inflicted scalpel wounds to the throat. And so begins Harry's involvement with the people… when he becomes, much to his horror, the new town doctor.
And the people? They're a lot. For starters:
Sheriff Thompson and Mayor Ben Hawthorne (Levi Fiehler) definitely have some beef, and not just because Hawthorne refuses to call Thompson "Big Black" (although that's part of it). It's the kind of power dynamic you'd expect between a no-bullsh**-taking cop and a well-meaning-liberal-arts-school-educated elected official, and is definitely fun to watch.
Mayor Hawthorne's son Max also happens to be, as Harry explains, one of the few Earthlings (one-in-one-million to be precise) born with the genetic mutation that lets him see the alien in his true form. Naturally, Max goes berserk, but his incredulous parents dismiss his accusations, and accuse him of his usual fantastic histrionics. And this is after Harry sneaks into Max's room and tries to kill him. Now, I'm no therapist, but maybe the Hawthornes need to try a little more active listening with their son? Just a thought.
We've also gotta dig more into Nurse Asta, who becomes Harry's new assistant after her old boss, you know, turned up dead. Warming up to Harry, Asta confides in him about herself: Her mother abandoned her when she was young; Sam became not only her employer but like an adoptive father; she married a biker named Jimmy, then left him. She's been through some stuff.
With a budding sense of compassion, Harry helps Asta move some belongings out of her old home. Jimmy shows up and gives Asta a rough time (to put it mildly). Harry then intervenes, which is also putting it mildly considering he yanks Jimmy through a wall and nearly chokes him to death. Excessive? Maybe. Deserved? Oh, you bet.
And just before the funeral-goers lie Sam in his final resting place, Harry whips open the casket and performs a last-minute autopsy on the body. What does he find? Besides dozens of shocked mourners? Sam was poisoned and died trying to perform an auto-tracheotomy.
Cue the Law & Order SFX! Kung Kung!
Now. That's enough human conflict to merit a series' worth of any average show; but throw in the supernatural element, and it's like tossing a lighted match under a powder keg. That's the genius of Resident Alien and its creator Chris Sheridan.
Like the bolt of lightning disrupting his ship's trajectory, Harry disrupts the everyday lives of the people of Patience, unintentionally becoming an agent of change for the very reason that he's not human. He's like a blessing in disguise — in addition to being an admittedly violent alien in disguise.
Of course, I might end up eating my words considering that *cough cough* Harry wasn't on some innocent fact-finding mission to Earth: He was there to drop an explosive device to obliterate it and all life on it. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there!
Only got a minute? Check out this neat 60-second Episode 1 recap: