Premiering in January of this year, Resident Alien is based on a Dark Horse comic. Proving once again that some fantastic writers are working in comics. It’s funny, it’s emotional, and it’s on our table today. We’re going to break it apart and discuss why it works.
The story is simple enough. An alien intending to blow up Earth accidentally crash lands. His ship and the device he needs to blow us all to small gooey bits are both broken. But not beyond repair. He can fix it and complete his mission. But first, he has to find all the pieces.
To do that, he has to pose as a human in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone. He kills a man and assumes his form. This would have all worked out fine, and the world might have been destroyed before we got a chance to do it ourselves. But he had the bad luck to have taken the form of Harry, the only doctor in town. After, that is, the current doctor died under mysterious circumstances.
A laugh riot!
Breaking this all down to its basic elements, we have all the good points for a story to hit. We have a main character with a clear goal. We have several obstacles in his way. Plot bunnies abound here, my friends.
The show took it several steps further, though. For one, it’s a blending of some genres we don’t see blended often. It’s SciFi, but it’s also sometimes a medical drama. But it’s also a small-town cozy murder mystery. Normally if a writer were to throw all those things at a story, I’d assume they lacked a compelling storyline in just one to carry the whole way through a season.
But that’s not the case at all. The way this story is constructed, the elements of each genre build on each other. They fit together like puzzle pieces. We wouldn’t care about who killed the doctor if we didn’t see Harry taking on his patents who loved the guy. We wouldn’t care so much about the medical aspects of a small-town doctor if we didn’t have that extra element of trying to figure out who killed the doctor and why. And both of these elements would be overused tropes if we didn’t have an alien pretending to be a doctor and looking up surgery procedures on Google.
But blending unusual genres is only part of the picture. As always, it comes down to the characters.
Take Harry. We really shouldn’t like the guy. As previously stated, he’s here to kill us all. So why do we like him?
Part of it is that we all like a flawed character. He is selfish and socially stupid. But he starts getting better despite himself, surrounded by the positive influences of Asta and D’Arcy. When we see him move past his hatred of the little boy, Max and start to care about him, this endears Harry to us. This works in two ways. First, we all love a redemption story. But it also works because the people he interacts with are likable characters to start with. I loved Asta and her dad. I want to go drink with D’Arcy, even if I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive the experience.
Of course, this only works if the opposite is true. That is if we don’t like the antagonists. In this case, it’s a couple of deep-cover military operatives named Lisa and David. We should like them. After all, they are trying to save all of us by catching Harry. And, for the most part, we do like David.
But we don’t like Lisa. And that’s because, right away, she proves that she has no moral compass. Or if she does, it doesn’t work like other people’s. She has no issues with killing people, innocent or guilty because they threaten her mission. And even though her mission is for the good of all mankind, it doesn’t feel like that matters to her.
Lisa feels less human than Harry. She feels like a weapon, that could be pointed in any direction.
So that’s why Resident Alien works. It blends genres, making them depend on each other. It endears us to a character that we shouldn’t like through growth and the great use of secondary characters. And it makes us hate people we should side with by painting them as cold and inhuman.
What did you learn from Resident Alien?
Is there a show, movie, or book you’d like me to talk about in Why it Works? Let us know in the comments.
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