Back around 1988 or so, the brand new Fox network added a science fiction drama to their lineup. It was a reboot of the 1986 film Alien Nation, which was a science fiction buddy-cop movie. Sorta.
But this iteration of the TV series was different. Very different. Because, as we know, the best science fiction programs are true allegories of stories that are uncomfortable to discuss. Star Trek’s “Prime Directive,” for example, was influenced by the Vietnam War, for example. The original Battlestar Galactica took its cues from the Biblical book of Exodus, while the reboot was more of a 9/11 allegory.
So let me bring up this Alien Nation series. The premise was simple. An alien slave ship crash-lands on earth, and its contents – 250,000 genetically created slaves known as the Tectonese – find their way into our society. Known officially as “Newcomers,” but derisively referred to as “slags” or “spongeheads,” they adapt well to their new life, although their increased strength and mental acumen, along with their ability to get drunk on sour milk, runs them afoul of “purists” who either want them relegated to settlements, or off the planet entirely. One newcomer police officer, George Francisco, works with a human cop, Matt Sikes, as they try to solve crimes throughout the human and Newcomer societies.
Yep, it’s a sci-fi, buddy-cop, police procedural with racial study overtones.
And this scene from the show’s pilot – which, mind you, aired in 1998, but was presumed to be what the world would look like after six years of life with the Newcomers, so the show technically took place in 1995-1996 – but we’re watching it now in 2021… seriously, just check this out.
The show was created for TV by Kenneth Johnson, who had previously achieved success with two other genre TV programs, The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk. In both those shows, Johnson made the characters more human and less comic book-like, and in Alien Nation, he continued that trend. The characters are at times sympathetic and understanding, yet still conflicted over this new indicia of race relations.
The show lasted for one season on Fox; the network cancelled most of their dramas that year in favor of cheaper, reality-based programs, but Alien Nation later survived in a series of five TV movies with the original cast, stories that eventually wrapped up the program and gave the series a satisfying conclusion.
Over the weekend, I was puttering through my TV channels and I stopped at the Tubi streaming service. Okay, here’s a bunch of old movies, some cheap international shows, a documentary about this and that – wait, is that Alien Nation? Yep, the Tubi streaming service is running the entire first season of Alien Nation. Sweet.
You’ll excuse me for a moment, I need to go binge watch.
But if you want an example of the powerful nature of this show, I’m going to give you an episode to watch now, straight from this blog. This mid-season episode, “The Game,” features a very cruel contest that was used by the overseers aboard the slave ship to torture the Tectonese. See, Tectons cannot survive in salt water, and this game was like a salt-water branded Russian Roulette. Powerful stuff.
So yeah, I’m psyched that I can see Alien Nation again. Would have loved a reboot of the series, especially with it being an allegory for what America’s going through now. But I’ll take this, for sure.
One of my favorite scenes in the series came I think in one of the post-season movies when George ‘s wife was sick and he sang their favorite song to cheer her up. “Do you know the way to San Jose.” My dad, who never watched Sci-Fi, watched this show and really enjoyed it. It was one of the few shows we would watch together when we had the chance.
I agree. With all that’s going on now, Alien Nation would be a great series to explore a lot of issues.
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