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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NIC Practical Nursing instructor Barb McPherson (right) is pictured with student Rebecca Wood in 2018 in NIC’s SIM lab. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College to host practical nursing info session

10 seats are open in the Port Alberni region for practical nursing program

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP locate driver and vehicle, but are asking for video footage

Students from AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni write anti-bullying messages and draw colourful chalk art around their school for national anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day, Feb. 24, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY LISA ARBANAS)
Chalk art brightens public walkway on Pink Shirt Day

Students from AW Neill Elementary in Port Alberni write messages of hope

Mary Mason of Owls Path Foundation presents plans for a Nuu-chah-nulth Cultural Centre to Port Alberni city council. The structure pictured in this image is the Copenhagen Opera House. (SCREENSHOT)
Nuu-chah-nulth cultural centre pitched for Port Alberni

Three possible locations put forward for multi-million-dollar centre

An endangered Vancouver Island marmot suns itself on rocks at Mount Washington, near the Comox Valley. Learn more about this endangered species with the Alberni Valley Nature Club. (PHOTO COURTESY SANDY MCRUER, AV NATURE CLUB)
Marmots, underwater mysteries part of Alberni Valley Nature Club lineup

Club kicks off membership drive with series of Zoom chats

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Shiromali Krishnaraj arrives from India and receives a mandatory COVID-19 test at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. B.C.’s approved rapid tests also use a nasal swab, with a machine to scan for COVID-19 antibodies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results

Tests deployed for exposures in schools, outbreaks in care homes, jails

BC Emergency Health Services confirmed that a call was received just before 10 a.m. Ground paramedics, as well as an air ambulance, are on the way to the area. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BREAKING: Helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

The Nanaimo bar display at the Nanaimo Museum. (City of Nanaimo Instagram)
City of Nanaimo points to correct recipe after New York Times botches batch of bars

City addresses ‘controversy’ around dessert square’s layers

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A man holds a picture of Chantel Moore during a healing gathering at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on June 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. First Nation demands transparency in probe into second fatal RCMP shooting

‘Police have killed more Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members than COVID’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of dead B.C. Hells Angels prospect to be divided between wife, secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

Most Read