Produced by Amblin Television, SYFY's Resident Alien puts a clever twist on the famous Elliot-E.T. dynamic that Steven Spielberg (founder of Amblin) established in his 1982 sci-fi classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The only person in the small town of Patience, Colorado, who can see Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle's (Alan Tudyk) true alien form through his human disguise is young Max (Judah Prehn). But instead of forming a poignant bond with the cosmic visitor, the boy is scared out of his wits. Not only that, but the two characters form a hilarious rivalry as Max attempts to convince his parents of the truth, to no avail.
As the fake Dr. Vanderspeigle notes in the show's pilot episode, "only one in a million humans have the genetic mutation that enables them to see through our molecular reconstruction."
Speaking with SYFY WIRE during a virtual press junket before last night's series premiere, Tudyk described Max as his "nemesis." Them's some fighting words!
"He can see me as an alien and so I'm vulnerable and he must be killed," the actor continued with a laugh. "Luckily for Max, he's 10 and Harry has the maturity level of an eight-year-old, so he's got a couple of years on Harry."
"It's fun having the kid be an adversary and having Harry want to get rid of him," showrunner Chris Sheridan said in a separate interview. "But to not be repetitive, you've got to find different ways to do that... He's gonna try to outsmart him and trick him. I like that they're combative and what's become funny in the show that we found is not necessarily the 10-year-old kid rising to Harry's level, but the 40-year-old man sinking to the child's level. When they're arguing or fighting, it's two 10-year-olds fighting. Harry doesn't know social norms. In the same way that kids are very immature, Harry's going through that same arc."
To make matters worse, Max is the son of the town's young and inexperienced mayor, Ben Hawthorne (Levi Fiehler), who essentially becomes Harry's boss when the doctor is asked to take over the day-to-day operations at the local health clinic. As the season progresses, Mayor Hawthorne and his wife, Kate (Meredith Garretson), become increasingly more worried about their son's mental health. Max is telling the truth, but since no one else can back up his claims, he turns into "The Boy Who Cried Alien."
While he doesn't have any children of his own, Fiehler is an uncle and was able to draw on interactions with nieces and nephews for the mayoral role.
"At first, it's kind of like, 'All right, our kid has an overactive imagination,'" Fiehler told SYFY WIRE at the press junket. "But then, as it progresses and he's not letting [go] of this idea, it was complicated just playing the reality of the situation while maybe not getting rid of the comedy completely. My instincts are like, 'Oh my god, this is heartbreaking. My child might have schizophrenia or something.' And Chris was like, 'All right, you don't have to take it that dark. We're doing a comedy here. Lighten up.' It was just finding that balance of how deep to dive into that situation."
He adds: "I didn't meet Judah until we were already into shooting the season. It was after the pilot, so it was later in the game that we established a rapport and we had to go back and re-film a lot of the scenes from the pilot and the second and third and I think even the fourth episode... I just tried to spend as much time with him and his mother as I could on set. Just get to know him. We kind of got this big Resident Alien family dynamic going and would spend time together between scenes and I think that helped a lot."
And here's a fun, behind-the-scenes fact: Judah now plays Minecraft on Xbox with the son of Corey Reynolds, who plays Sheriff Mike Thompson, aka "Big Black."
New episodes of Resident Alien will premiere on SYFY every Wednesday. If you have a cable subscription, you can check out the first three episodes via On Demand, OneApp, Apple TV, and Roku. Starting Wednesday, Feb. 3, the first two installments will be free to stream on the official SYFY YouTube channel.