First thing’s first, Alan Tudyk is a national treasure. If Nathan Fillion is the hunk of the nerd fandom, then Alan Tudyk is… well, also the bonafide hunk, but also the plucky best friend, the comic relief, or also the bad guy you try to hate, but dang it he’s talking sense! Alan Tudyk has made a career of being prolific and synonymous with theatrical, campy, and all-around amazing performances. He’s so universally beloved, he jumped the mononymed train altogether. He’s Alan Tudyk, and he deserves his flowers!
Outside of SyFy’s Resident Alien, Tudyk has been most recently heard in a variety of animated projects like Disney’s Encanto and DC’s Harley Quinn on HBO Max. He was most recently seen in DC’s The Doom Patrol on HBO Max as Mr. Nobody.
If Mr. Nobody is a maniacally deranged master villain with a chip on his shoulder, then Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, Tudyk’s character in Resident Alien, is his polar opposite. He’s staunch, loves to follow orders, and is completely un-self-aware. The thing that connects the two are wildly misread delusions of grandeur. This is where a talented character actor like Alan Tudyk is necessary.
When playing these delightfully unhinged characters, Tudyk always has a look on his face like someone has just called his name. Even better, it looks like he knows you’re about to call his name, and somehow it’s become a challenge. There’s a thrill that runs through you while watching him play. You never know what’s going to happen next or how far into left field the next line is going to take you.
Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle is a young man who is taking a much-needed vacation to his isolated cabin in Patience, Colorado. Everything seems to be going fine until a bright light and a gust of wind cause his French doors to open and an alien proceeds to use him as a skin puppet. The alien’s name is unpronounceable (he insists you call him Harry), and his ability (or inability as it were) to fit into human culture is baffling. The local town doctor has suddenly passed away and the town asks Harry to temporarily take his place while they get a replacement.
Resident Alien definitely gives Northern Exposure mixed with The X Files vibes, and it’s not a bad combination. The townsfolk are quirky. There’s a good amount of Indigenous representation, starting with Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko), a member of the Ute tribe and Harry’s assistant. Her dad runs the local diner, and we see tribal customs interwoven into the modern-day narrative.
Asta’s best friend D’Arcy Bloom owns the local bar, the 59, where the town motto, “59 died to save 1” is emblazoned in bittersweet irony. Once an Olympic hopeful, her dreams were dashed by an untimely and devastating accident. Due to boredom and the feeling of defeat, she tends to make questionable choices, especially in regards to dating. Of course, she wants to date Harry almost immediately.
Next, there is the Hawthorne family: Mayor Ben (Levi Fiehler), his dominant wife Kate (Meredith Garretson), and their son Max (Judah Prehn) who has the distinction of being one of the few who can see past Harry’s mask to the alien underneath. The town is “protected” by Sheriff Mike Thompson (Corey Reynolds), who insists everyone calls him “Big Black.” Thankfully this joke is used sparingly throughout the season. I put “protected” in quotes because the real brain of the sheriff’s department is deputy Live Baker (Elizabeth Bowen), who is often overlooked and resorts to doing work away from the sheriff.
Some other mentionable characters are the adorable Sahar (Gracelyn Awad Rinke), who is Max’s best friend and helps him solve the mystery of Harry. There’s also Jay (Kaylayla Raine) as the moody clinic assistant. And finally we have Lieutenant David Logan (Alex Barima) and Lisa Casper (the fantastic Mandell Maughan), two agents who are working hard to find Harry. Lisa is particularly wild in her approach. Both are under orders of General McCallister played by the iconic Linda Hamilton.
We find out that Harry’s mission was to come to Earth to destroy it. It may seem like I buried the lead there a bit, but Resident Alien does such a good job of rounding out interesting storylines so that while you never forget the clock is ticking, you can enjoy the side plots without losing the thread. Harry is initially unlikeable as an alien. He doesn’t like humans much either, though he finds them fascinating. He forms a friendship with Asta and a semi-unintentional relationship with D’Arcy while trying to navigate another surprise relationship that comes out of nowhere.
I’ve effused about my love of Alan Tudyk, but he really is integral for how to make characters like this work. Tudyk doesn’t waste time trying to make Harry likable or redeeming. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. He depends on the audience to know he’s supposed to be redeemed and to try to imagine how he could be, to see if they are right. He’s cocky, he’s irascible, he’s downright rude, but for some reason, you root for him, even when he’s completely gung ho on eviscerating the planet. And Asta is no femme fatale or a bumbling female sidekick. She’s strong even when she’s vulnerable. She’s capable. She’s not there to hold Harry’s hand — she’s got enough on her plate, thank you. But she is able to be there as a friend, and hopefully, the lesson in friendship is enough to change Harry’s mind.
Season 1 of Resident Alien is perfectly bingeable, and I have very few complaints. First would be the “Big Black” of it all. We learn a little more about Sheriff Thompson, but nothing that would explain why he would insist on being called this. He’s definitely a tough pill to swallow at the beginning of the season, which makes his character growth near the end of the season feel earned and successful even though he’s still got a ways to go.
Also, there’s an instance where we learn something about the real Harry Vanderspeigle that seems to have been dropped completely. The show has done a relatively successful job of tying up loose ends, in some cases maybe even a little too tightly, so I feel like they’ll address it again. But it’s strange how abruptly it was dropped and then seemingly dismissed. There’s also the “59 died to save 1” thing. I can’t quite tell if it’s a joke or sincere. If it’s a joke it could be seen as cruel, but if it’s real, it’s very, very stupid. And maybe therein lies the point? Either way, it’s not enough to hamper my watch.
Resident Alien is a fun show starring comedic greats bringing heart and life to a quirky plot. The cameos are excellent, the effects are pretty good, and the Indigenous representation is definitely notable. I highly recommend it!
Resident Alien is currently in its second season on Peacock.
What's Your Reaction?
Stacey Yvonne is an entertainment journalist who is often found in some corner of the internet pontificating about pop culture and its effect on women, Blackfolk and the LGBT+ community. You can see more of her work at https://syvonnecreative.com