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News / Life / Entertainment

‘Resident Alien’ makes itself at home on Netflix

Star Alan Tudyk thrilled that show’s audience expanding

By John Wenzel, The Denver Post
Published: March 16, 2024, 6:04am
2 Photos
Alan Tudyk plays an alien who takes over the body of a doctor in the Colorado-set sci-fi series &ldquo;Resident Alien.&rdquo; (Syfy)
Alan Tudyk plays an alien who takes over the body of a doctor in the Colorado-set sci-fi series “Resident Alien.” (Syfy) Photo Gallery

DENVER — When the first two seasons of “Resident Alien” premiered on Netflix last month, star Alan Tudyk could only guess at how audiences would react.

“We’ve always been on Syfy and it’s been great, but the pandemic and the writer’s strike really changed the way shows are being released,” he said of the sci-fi TV series, which is set in the fictional Colorado mountain town of Patience. “Getting the first two seasons on Netflix gives us a chance to catch people up and turn them on to the show.”

It worked beautifully for “Schitt’s Creek,” the non-Netflix-produced show that mutated into an Emmy-winning mainstream hit after being licensed to the streaming service. Like “Resident Alien,” it was made by another company (Canada’s CBC) but ascended the charts on Netflix after connecting with a new, devoted group of binge-viewers.

In the case of “Resident Alien,” the show instantly reached the No. 1 spot in daily TV viewings and has stayed in the Top 10 (usually the Top 5) each day since its Netflix premiere. It coincided with the Feb. 14 release of “Resident Alien’s” Season 3 on the Syfy network — with each new episode streaming the next day on Peacock — to generate fresh attention and praise for a show that considers what it means to be an outsider.

“I was able to catch the (season premiere) because I have Hulu Live, so I saw it being streamed as it was airing on Syfy,” Tudyk said, noting that he usually hates watching himself on screen. “There are all kinds of different ways to catch things and the more places you are, the better.”

Tudyk has no problem with finding work, given that he’s quietly been in some of the biggest movies on the planet and acted on-screen regularly since 1997’s “35 Miles from Normal.” A veteran of Joss Whedon’s beloved “Firefly” series, he’s voiced characters or appeared in every Walt Disney Animation Studios title released since 2012, including blockbusters such as “Frozen,” “Moana,” “Encanto” and “Wish.”

He’s a go-to character actor for other major franchises, including Star Wars, Transformers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Universe, cult-hit cartoons (“Rick and Morty”), video game series and motion-capture characters (Spider-Man, Halo) and stage productions such as Broadway’s “Spamalot.” He also played Steve the Pirate in “Dodgeball.”

In “Resident Alien,” the versatile Tudyk plays a space alien named Harry who crash-landed in Colorado with the mission of destroying humanity. That quickly gets complicated as he absorbs the town’s culture and forms various alliances, eventually working to save the town of Patience amid the arrival of more aliens like him (the Greys, as they’re called).

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It’s part campy trope-fest, part thoughtful drama, and all weirdness. It’s based on the Dark Horse comic book series from the 2010s and early 2020s, and shepherded to TV by veteran “Family Guy” writer Chris Sheridan.

The isolation of the mountain-town concept — the rest of the show is filmed in and around Vancouver, not Colorado — allows for characters with backstories that complement but don’t always overlap one another. The writing feels inspired by quirky dramedies such as “Northern Exposure” but also alien-and-human “Odd Couple” sitcoms such as “Alf,” “3rd Rock from the Sun,” and “Mork and Mindy” — the last of which was set in Boulder.

“The big thing for my character, Harry, this season is love,” Tudyk, 52, said. “Harry started out without emotions and his people don’t have emotions, so his human form has begun to affect him from the inside out. Season 3 is sort of his teenage years. He’s still very naive.”

The new season brings back central characters such as Asta Twelvetrees (played by Sara Tomko), who acts as Harry’s medical assistant while he assumes the role of town doctor. She’s a rarity in TV portrayals, as a member of Colorado’s Ute tribe, but not the only Indigenous writer or actor on the show. Tazbah Rose Chavez, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, was one of the Native writers “hired to ensure authentic representation of the Native characters and storylines,” according to The Southern Ute Drum, a publication based in Ignacio.

American Indian magazine compared “Resident Alien” to the comedy hit “Reservation Dogs” in its portrayal of “real Native lives on screen.” The fact that the titular alien crash-landed near a Colorado Ute reservation is no accident, but rather a chance to represent a more authentic slice of the state’s culture. It’s also a potent exploration of what it means to be an immigrant.

“In a lot of ways it shows the white population as the aliens, because they’re also the ones that came in,” Tudyk said. “Refugees and immigrants are trying to give themselves a better life, although I guess the difference here is that Harry’s coming to Earth to destroy it. At least at first.”

The cast is filled out by a self-obsessed sheriff (Corey Reynolds), ex-Olympic skier and bar owner (Alice Wetterlund), youthful mayor (Levi Fiehler), quip-happy deputy (Elizabeth Bowen), and other well-drawn characters. That includes newer guest players Linda Hamilton (“The Terminator” movies) as a military general, and Edi Patterson (“Righteous Gemstones”) as an avian alien species who flies into Colorado.

“She like an owl, if an owl could be sexy,” Tudyk said with a laugh. “The commitment to the characters is great, and she’s giving it 100 percent. This woman is so next-level so funny that when we were casting this I said, ‘Please!’ The character was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the universe, but there’s another way to cast it that would be more actress-y and less model-y. So I’m glad the emphasis is on the comedy.”

Acknowledging the show’s absurdity while also working toward an “emotional reality and touching scenes” is not easy, Tudyk said. And yet the show has clearly figured out something other Colorado-set TV series have not.

Maybe it’s the visible evolution of the characters — particularly Harry, who’s constantly challenged by his weak grasp of human culture — that has made it so relatable. Maybe it’s the escapism, or alternately, the real-world themes. Like Harry’s bond to the town of Patience, Tudyk thinks the newly popular show and its viewers are growing together.

“He’s much more of an earthling now,” he said of his character. “He bleeds partly human blood, so literally there is that part of him that’s identifying with the culture after immersing himself in it. I love this country for that, that we have so many people from so many different places. I feel like some people take that as, “OK, so I don’t have to go anywhere!’ Traveling gives you a nice broadening of your world, but it also makes you love home that much more.”