Comics On TV

Resident Alien Star Alan Tudyk on Why This Extraterrestrial Is So Dang Mean

Plus, showrunner Chris Sheridan and Tudyk's costars talk the show's quirky charms and surprising homicidal streak.

by | January 27, 2021 | Comments

Flipping through the pages of Dark Horse Comics’ Resident Alien, it is easy to see why it might become a television show. Written by Peter Hogan with art from Steve Parker, it tells the tale of an alien marooned on Earth who adopts the name Harry Vanderspeigle. His alien physiology gives him the ability to cloak as human and it is a good thing as the mayor and sheriff of nearby Patience, Colorado, ask for his help after their local doctor is murdered. Harry, a fan of cheap crime novels, decides to risk going to town in order to see the corpse. What follows is a curious mixture of police procedural, film noir, and the slow burn quirkiness of Northern Exposure.

“I fell in love with the thought of using an alien as eyes into trying to figure out what it’s like to be human,” showrunner Chris Sheridan recently told Rotten Tomatoes. “[Harry is] in a place where he’s trying to figure out the human condition and people reading it can maybe get an insight of their own based on how Harry is seeing things. So I really fell in love with that.”

Of course, the show is different from its source material in may ways. It is faster, quippier, and Harry (Alan Tudyk) is far less genial on television than his comic book counterpart. Harry is, in fact, not exactly a good guy, and his mission on Earth may have dire consequences if he can ever recover the pieces of his ship.

“I felt like raising the stakes would be helpful,” Sheridan explained. “Giving Harry a sort of a negative mission and a negativity around him a little bit, gives him a place to go.”

That place, of course, is discovering his literally newfound humanity.

“Now that he’s sort of infected with these emotions, sort of becoming a little more human himself, we can watch his journey and learn a little bit about ourselves as well,” Sheridan explained.

As viewers will see, what it means to be human is very much at the core of the series — that is, if those viewers get over the part where Harry tries to kill the one person in town who can see him as an alien: a boy named Max (Judah Prehn). When homicide fails, Harry resorts to psychological warfare.

“He becomes a threat to Harry, so he uses that against him,” Tudyk said.

As it happens, no one else in town believes Max, which leads to an Invaders From Mars dynamic. Granted, the alien’s desire to kill a boy is just one trait that makes Harry fun to watch.

According to the actor, the producers cast a pretty wide net to find the right lead before the opportunity to audition came his way.

“It immediately appealed to me,” he said.

The mix of genuine sentiment and TV-friendly cruelty came through in the audition, and he emerged as the right Harry, a being still learning how to walk and talk correctly despite a steely intelligence.

Playing Harry, of course, requires spending a significant amount of time in alien make-up. The head itself is a two-hour application process; longer when a chest piece is called for compared to a simpler girdle needed for other scenes. Combined with his performance and some computer graphics to add some blinking and squints — “The eyes are so cool,” Tudyk said — it is one of the more effective alien performances on television.

Judah Prehn in Resident Alien

(Photo by James Dittinger/SYFY)

Another part of playing Harry is spending time with Max as their conflict heats up. Their ongoing feud becomes a key part of the story with the two playing off each other in an unexpected and funny way.

“Kids are so smart now,” Tudyk said of Prehn’s Max. “It helps that Harry is at the emotional level of like a nine-year-old.”

In coming to town, Harry also meets some adults who are fooled by his human guise. These include Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko), the head nurse at the local clinic who quickly forms a bond with Harry; her friend D’arcy Bloom (Alice Wetterlund), a local bartender; Mayor Ben Hawthorne (Levi Fiehler), who wants Harry to be his new shrink; and Sheriff Mike Thompson (Corey Reynolds), who is suspicious of Harry, but is also suspicious everyone.

The group proves to be a diverse and lively bunch who come to life right away. Mike, for instance, comes on strong and asks for people to call him “Big Black.” It rarely works out for him, but his posturing establishes an emotional armor — one that is soon tested by the arrival of this homicidal extraterrestrial.

“If you’re fortunate enough in this industry as an actor, you’re reading scripts a lot, [and] you come to be able to discern a little more clearly which ones have that ‘it’ factor and which ones maybe don’t have it as much. And this show checked off all the boxes,” Reynolds said.

Sara Tomko and Alice Wetterlund in RESIDENT ALIEN

(Photo by James Dittinger/Syfy)

One of the show’s most appealing elements is the time it spends with Asta and D’arcy as friends. Both characters are originally from Patience — the name of the town is retained from the comics — and both escaped from it for a time. Eventually they find their way back home, and their reminiscing about high school, verbal sparring, and constant emotional support proves to be something of a secret weapon for the series. Although both Tomko and Wetterlund said it was already in the characters from the first scene together, Sheridan said he picked up on the dynamic during a party scene in the third episode.

“There’s a real camaraderie there and that’s when it clicked into me what this relationship was,” he said. “It’s one of, I think, many non-romantic love stories in the show. I loved being able to portray a real friendship like this.”

The two actors also appreciated how immediately messy their characters are from the start — D’arcy a little more outwardly so than Asta.

“It’s a fun, modern trope in today’s television landscape to do messy women who don’t have it all together,” Wetterlund said. “This show does succeed at that because they’re treated as humans first from the perspective of an alien. When you look at it through Harry’s eyes, he’s like, ‘I don’t know what… What’s a woman?’

“We’re not defined at all by our gender,” she continued. “It’s just a part of who we are. When this show has an opportunity to tell a story, it tells it from the alien’s perspective, so our messiness is … it’s very real. It’s very meaty.”

Sara Tomko in Resident Alien

(Photo by James Dittinger/Syfy)

For Asta, that meaty messiness also comes with an extended Native American family. Tomko was surprised how quickly the show delved into the difference between Patience and a nearby reservation, but felt “it is so important that you immediately understand there is a lot going on here and that there is so much that she is dealing with.”

As the story begins, Harry observes her as she grieves for the murdered town doctor, a sort of surrogate father figure despite the presence of her adoptive father, Dan Twelvetrees (Gary Farmer), at the local diner and the family as short drive away.

“There is just so much that you need to see right away so that you understand why she feels like an outsider and why she feels like she is going through this isolation, even though she has a wonderful family around her, it’s like that’s how her and Harry really connect,” Tomko said.

As viewers will see by the end of the first episode, there is a reason Asta feels disconnected from that larger family and it will reverberate throughout the season.

“I think you have to know that she’s going through those things, and you also have to see her being surrounded by all that love and still not seeing it herself, to understand how we really beat ourselves up as humans without seeing the love around us,” Tomko said.

Elizabeth Bowen and Corey Reynolds in Resident Alien

(Photo by James Dittinger/Syfy)

Mike and Ben, meanwhile, represent the polar extremes of 21st-century masculinity: Mike displaying performative aggressiveness, while Ben goes for a gentler approach. But Fiehler said he doubts it will ever lead to a direct conflict between them.

“I think that as the season progresses, Mike learns from Mayor Ben, the way that I think Mayor Ben tries to take some things from Sheriff Mike,” Fiehler said. Comparing them to Stewie and Brian from Family Guy, he added, “You wouldn’t think necessarily that the two of them together could have adventures, but I really do think that the two of us together, we tend to have a lot of fun.”

The characters are also complete rethinks of the characters in the comic book with the mayor in those stories on the verge of retiring and the sheriff disarming all the expectations of a small-town lawman. The changes certainly amp up the conflict with Mike creating as much drama in his own police force as he deals with on the streets. Reynolds said the dynamic will lead to a change of sorts in Mike before too long.

“I pointed out to Chris early on with this character, because we had made him so cantankerous and so pissed off all the time, that I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can get away with this for season after season, unless the audience feels some sort of sympathy for him,’” he explained.

Ben, whose issues form a great punchline early in the series, will also be explored.

“I feel we get to see him work through some of the major ones throughout the season,” Fiehler said. “I feel like he ends up kind of becoming more of the mayor figure that maybe he should be.”

And it’s a good thing, too, with a murderer on the loose and Harry roaming town with his eccentricities. Ben also has to convince Harry to stay on as the town doctor until a permanent replacement can be found.

Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien season 1 keyart

(Photo by Syfy)

And speaking of Harry, the show will offer one more curious wrinkle: the real Harry, whose identity the alien stole, will matter.

“I knew early on who Harry was. I was told it was part of the sales pitch on the show,” Tudyk teased. “There’s still some good stuff to come about who the person was that the alien takes over.”

It remains to be seen, of course, if that will prove to be Resident Alien’s biggest surprise.

Resident Alien premieres on Wednesday, January 27 on Syfy

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Hallmark video BBC One Amazon Prime Song of Ice and Fire Schedule Netflix Captain marvel ITV Election Holidays Ghostbusters CMT RT History Netflix Christmas movies Reality Television Critics Association mockumentary crime thriller fresh ABC talk show Hulu canceled Valentine's Day Kids & Family documentary Cartoon Network Heroines Trailer IFC Films TLC monster movies cars New York Comic Con kids Amazon ID high school Awards crime drama Emmys Comedy TV telelvision Fox Searchlight FX Mudbound romantic comedy Sci-Fi streaming cults foreign Toys Brie Larson miniseries supernatural Emmy Nominations Academy Awards Tubi Country worst Tomatazos 24 frames richard e. Grant green book halloween tv Women's History Month FX on Hulu justice league toronto blockbusters GIFs Crunchyroll Film Festival women japanese thriller dogs political drama witnail Pop HBO Mary Tyler Moore nfl Paramount finale Music PBS halloween ABC Family series Rocketman VICE screenings casting adventure Universal composers WarnerMedia hollywood Christmas universal monsters children's TV romance films festival Vudu science fiction dragons Winter TV Trivia television singing competition latino dark Lucasfilm documentaries 71st Emmy Awards quibi Acorn TV DC Universe Disney chucky disaster hist Calendar sequel Endgame ViacomCBS venice Arrowverse anime binge dceu discovery See It Skip It IFC 2021 rt archives Mary poppins ghosts Opinion A&E Nickelodeon Super Bowl zombies Photos CW Seed American Society of Cinematographers independent biography cartoon Adult Swim Amazon Prime Video Lifetime Creative Arts Emmys DC streaming service Marathons Tumblr 72 Emmy Awards OWN Classic Film BET Nat Geo Holiday vampires Shondaland Watching Series concert The Arrangement The Walking Dead 99% cancelled Superheroes crossover Tarantino golden globes french Masterpiece cats based on movie zero dark thirty dc video on demand Epix Musicals blockbuster directors Pet Sematary Reality Competition CNN boxing spy thriller blaxploitation Warner Bros. breaking bad cooking scary movies Certified Fresh Binge Guide die hard TV Land transformers Turner Classic Movies TV One Nominations king kong MSNBC reviews SXSW fast and furious Martial Arts Interview Trophy Talk President Film Year in Review stop motion 2017 NBC kaiju Alien E! Mindy Kaling Premiere Dates Travel Channel Television Academy Black Mirror spider-man PlayStation versus cancelled TV series christmas movies Sundance TV DC Comics cinemax war Hear Us Out obituary rotten movies we love golden globe awards Baby Yoda GLAAD Comic Book comic books Legendary Sundance Now The CW cops Disney Channel Pixar historical drama Avengers movie ratings police drama Apple TV Plus sag awards zombie movies screen actors guild doctor who revenge Spring TV adaptation all-time Oscars asian-american james bond CBS batman unscripted WGN Columbia Pictures Pride Month LGBT Marvel Studios prank remakes National Geographic Pop TV nature name the review TCA free movies spinoff USA Network VH1 Funimation Spike football YouTube boxoffice Extras 2019 hispanic criterion rotten Thanksgiving Black History Month RT21 psychological thriller comiccon First Look The Purge stand-up comedy Star Wars docuseries Set visit ABC Signature The Walt Disney Company politics spain Bravo best Summer Drama 4/20 Comics on TV serial killer Rom-Com diversity Western game show strong female leads BAFTA Red Carpet AMC TV renewals saw theme song Marvel ESPN Stephen King satire deadpool true crime 20th Century Fox Hallmark Christmas movies slashers Exclusive Video south america TCM Syfy spanish Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Action festivals Mystery robots Character Guide superhero razzies Discovery Channel child's play Broadway Fantasy crime classics Polls and Games joker reboot sitcom San Diego Comic-Con werewolf jamie lee curtis TCA Winter 2020 cancelled television canceled TV shows Cannes new star wars movies archives trailers Food Network E3 Crackle worst movies HBO Go godzilla Spectrum Originals A24 Video Games teaser Disney+ Disney Plus DirecTV Teen DGA PaleyFest Britbox toy story 93rd Oscars Comedy Central scorecard 45 Best and Worst Sneak Peek australia Paramount Plus Walt Disney Pictures animated TBS Sony Pictures Fox News tv talk Rock comics TCA 2017 jurassic park a nightmare on elm street TIFF sequels technology franchise VOD OneApp Apple spanish language 007 Ellie Kemper YA Quiz FXX Apple TV+ Winners indiana jones sports superman Lionsgate award winner elevated horror Pirates Animation HBO Max italian BBC Grammys 2015 GoT USA Superheroe 2018 Starz Showtime social media Sundance Fall TV Infographic Box Office game of thrones APB SDCC twilight Family cancelled TV shows LGBTQ Star Trek mission: impossible Paramount Network comic harry potter Musical MCU stoner emmy awards Esquire Disney Plus The Academy book adaptation Rocky FOX critics TruTV TCA Awards docudrama Amazon Studios Podcast Dark Horse Comics Chilling Adventures of Sabrina NYCC travel YouTube Red nbcuniversal First Reviews mutant Chernobyl Turner laika Biopics psycho popular renewed TV shows Mary Poppins Returns period drama Lifetime Christmas movies hidden camera Elton John The Witch comedies what to watch kong Peacock 21st Century Fox Freeform space El Rey 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards medical drama CBS All Access Cosplay rom-coms X-Men BET Awards Logo parents heist movie Shudder Anna Paquin Disney streaming service book YouTube Premium black 2016 natural history History indie Marvel Television 2020 Awards Tour SundanceTV Writers Guild of America TNT aliens Countdown dramedy BBC America MTV Horror anthology facebook Ovation news pirates of the caribbean