How SYFY’s Resident Alien Became One of TV’s Most Wholesome Comedies

TV

The following contains mild spoilers for Resident Alien.

Though the basic premise of Resident Alien will feel fairly familiar to genre viewers—an extraterrestrial forced to live in disguise as a dead human doctor named Harry Vanderspeigle contemplates whether or not to help his race kill us all—it may come as a surprise to many that the SYFY comedy is probably one of the most original and heartwarming things on-air right now. (Yes, really.)

Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, the series initially appears to be the story of a dangerous alien who may or may not be plotting the human race’s doom. But rather than use the threat of extraterrestrial annihilation to depict the worst potential of humanity, Resident Alien whole-heartedly leans into showing us its best, emphasizing the human race’s unique capacity for kindness, loyalty, and care toward one another. 

In doing so, it gleefully subverts many of the standard tropes we expect to see in this genre, turning what should be a simple fish-out-of-water comedy or potential alien invasion drama into something much more complex and interesting. Because while the show is often hysterically funny, it is also deeply moving, exploring complex themes of belonging, trauma, grief, and regret alongside our protagonist’s discovery of the wonders of New York-style pizza. Instead of setting Harry directly at odds with the Earthlings he is—at least initially—planning to genocidally murder, the show deftly deploys his awkward commentary and abrasive personality to illuminate and explore what it means to be human. That the show does so without becoming a Hallmark special full of cloying sentiment is just one of the many ways it’s great, but what truly makes the series remarkable is its bold choice to make its titular alien just another member of a group of outsiders looking to belong. 

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The town of Patience, Colorado is full of misfits and outcasts of varying degrees, all trying to find their place in the world just as Harry himself is. From a sheriff trying to flee the ghosts of his own past to a wife who isn’t sure she made the right choice about giving up her career for her husband’s dreams, every character on Resident Alien is a glorious study in all the messiness that comes with life as a human being. But it’s the firmly established bond between town nurse Asta Twelvetrees and chaotic bartender D’Arcy Bloom that largely serves as the emotional linchpin around which the rest of the show turns.

Though Asta’s deepening relationship with Harry is obviously important to her, and to the larger story that Resident Alien is telling, it’s her longtime friendship with D’Arcy that grounds her character and helps provide the show with the sort of relatable, human stakes that make it all work. The two women are allowed to be angry, to make mistakes, to get jealous, to be deeply and fully imperfect in a way that we rarely get to see in female friendship on television, especially in sci-fi properties. Yet, the show doesn’t judge either of them for their various failings and stumbles, it simply shows us the pair working their way back to each other again, as they always have. Learning, apologizing, and loving one another anyway.

Best friends since high school, the two women have been helping each other navigate life’s ups and downs since long before an alien came to town, and though Harry comes to mean different things to each of them, his presence thankfully never truly threatens the foundation of their relationship in any real way. Yes, Asta is currently keeping a mountain of secrets from her BFF about everything about Harry’s true identity and the various extraterrestrial threats humanity is currently facing to the mystery surrounding Sam Hodges’s death, and D’Arcy will inevitably be incredibly hurt and angry when all that subterfuge comes to light. But it’s hard to imagine anything breaking these two women up for good, if only because they’ve already proven there’s basically nothing they won’t do for one another. 

There’s an old saying that friends help you move (though yours truly is currently trapped in this particular hell and can confirm it’s easier just to pay professionals), but real friends help you move bodies. This is perhaps the least poetic way to describe Asta and D’Arcy’s friendship, but as the season 2 midseason premiere “Autopsy” proves, it is absolutely the most accurate. On a different sort of show, D’Arcy discovering that Asta killed a man would be a game changer for their relationship, likely spinning it off into a dark place of recrimination, guilt, and mistrust. Instead, D’Arcy simply asks if Harry owns a wood chipper for her to chuck the dead body into because that’s the kind of ride-or-die BFF she is. (Relationship goals, is what I’m saying.) Her only concern is whether Asta might find herself in further danger or in jail, and she passes zero judgment on what her friend felt she had to do. 

D’Arcy and Asta’s friendship has survived a lot over the years, from the horrors of high school to the struggles of trying to date in a small town where everyone not only knows who you are, they already know the worst thing about you too. At different points in their lives, both women have tried to leave Patience behind them, but both ended up returning to their hometown—and to one another—when their respective dreams didn’t exactly work out the way they wanted them to. Even now, D’Arcy is still trying to figure out who she is if she can’t be the Olympic skier she trained to become. Asta must navigate her own recovery from an abusive relationship even as she tries to forge a new relationship with Jay, now that the younger woman knows she’s her biological mother. But Resident Alien is very clear about one thing: No matter what other problems or personal traumas the two are trying to navigate they always have each other to turn to.

Real long-term friendship—the kind that lasts for decades and becomes a formative part of who you are as an individual—is a hard thing to depict realistically on television, probably even more so than romantic relationships. Because let’s face it, sexual chemistry can cover for a multitude of sins onscreen, but other than repeatedly telling us how long a pair have known one another, there aren’t a lot of easy ways to depict the depth and breadth of that kind of platonic bond. But that’s precisely the kind of relationship that Asta and D’Arcy have, one that has naturally grown and changed along with the two of them, and stands as the sum total of all their best decisions and worst mistakes. And Resident Alien positively wouldn’t work without it.

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