In the history of cinema, there are probably fewer than a dozen examples of television series that actually surpass the motion picture source material on which they are based. Alien Nation is precisely such an achievement.
Originally a modest 1988 science fiction/ cop drama film starring James Cann and Mandy Patinkin, the series mirrored the usual prime time cop show format of the 1980s in terms of its general dynamic and pacing. Of course the caveat here is that the show was set in slightly futuristic Los Angeles; where the human population is divided when a large spacecraft crash-lands and hence deposits a populace of genetically developed Tenctonese slaves from another galaxy.
Biped humanoids, these aliens are stronger, intelligent, and could be immediately identified by an apparent lack of hair and unique complexions/ skin markings.
The focal point of the show worked off the partnership between two LA police detectives, human Matthew Sikes (Gary Graham), and Tenctonese George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint) as they patrol an area known as “Slagtown,” the Tenctonese slums. The show is comedic, action laden and chock full of pertinent social commentary that still holds up in society today.
Sikes, an admitted bigot, is initially offended that George was given an equal position as part of the department's diversity program rather than earning it over time. One of countless humans with a prejudiced view toward the newcomers, much of the show’s charm stems from the gradual broadening of Sikes’ limited view of the whole race as a result of being partnered with George.
Where the film failed (it never really got into who the Tenctonese were as a people), the series absolutely dazzled. Episodes typically divide time equally between the police precinct, Sikes’ bachelor-style home life and George’s very-humanlike family (which includes a wife and two kids).
The technical limitations of the era are completely nullified by solid writing and a very believable (yet fascinating) character dynamic. Truly if modern filmmaking’s notoriety is visual effects overshadowing storytelling then Alien Nation is proof positive of the inherent opposite.
As it had been many years since I encountered the show, I admittedly had it mentally intermingled with similarly themed shows V and Earth: Final Conflict. Having revisited all of the franchises in question, I can assert that Alien Nation was by far the strongest of the lot despite perhaps being the least “scientific” and the most socially aware.
The lion’s share of the credit for this program’s achievement can be attributed directly to veteran television producer Kenneth Johnson, creator of such science fiction pieces as The Six-Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk, and aforementioned V. Should there arise any doubt to the man’s uncanny television production sensibilities and/or approachable nature to what is considered my many to be a snobbish and oft unapproachable industry, a single listen to the included audio commentary will set the record straight!
It's nothing shy of tragic that Alien Nation only lasted a single season (22-episodes contained in this collection which aired between 1989 & 1990) on the Fox Network, who at the time reportedly couldn't financially continue production even though the ratings were strong enough to warrant renewal. The series’ cliff-hanger ending was never resolved for the television audience, but Fox wisely decided to resurrect (and complete) the Alien Nation saga in the form of five made-for-television movies beginning in 1994. While it would have been just amazing to have had said films included in this collection, they have, to Fox’s credit, been released to DVD.
This is highly recommended science fiction drama that will, so long as there exists society, resonate with authority.
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