Describing “Resident Alien” as ‘“Northern Exposure” with an alien’ is reductive (and doesn’t properly acknowledge “Alien”’s R-rated but PG-13 executed humor). But it’s where my mind goes when trying to shortcut describe the show, especially this season. “Alien” is an ensemble. Though Alan Tudyk’s semi-reformed alien invader is the lynchpin, the core relationship is Sara Tomko and Alice Wetterlund. The character development all ties back to how Tomko and Wetterlund are experiencing their hometown as it changes, and they change and how everything around them affects those experiences.
Tomko and Tudyk’s friendship has been one of the show’s greatest successes. No matter how wild the plot can get, no matter how absurd Tudyk can get, there’s a calm, comfort to their scenes. Whereas Tomko and Wetterlund’s scenes often bring the drama. In this episode, Wetterlund’s pissed-off Tomko spent the night at abusive ex Ben Cotton’s, and Tomko claps back, bringing up Wetterlund’s drinking problem. Wetterlund gets hangover IVs at the clinic from nurse Diana Bang (who gets a bunch of great material this episode).
Wetterlund resents Tomko for the secrets she’s kept—given-away daughter Kaylayla Raine—and Tomko resents Wetterlund’s present-day friendship with Raine. Their relationship is currently the only one on the show where there’s room for actual growth.
Mainly because everyone else’s development is in some way tied to Tudyk. For example, this episode has kids Judah Prehn and Gracelyn Awad Rinke discover they’ve lost track of Tudyk’s silver alien space ball. Unfortunately, they can’t tell anyone about it because it’s a big secret, meaning Prehn’s relationship with parents Levi Fiehler and Meredith Garretson has a significant constraint. Similarly, as Elizabeth Bowen becomes more and more convinced there’s been an alien incident (her lost memories from a day, which Tudyk indeed did wipe) when she and Corey Reynolds bond over it… it’s only going to go so far before alien space magic gets involved.
The episode actually opens with Reynolds, flashing back to the tragic end of his career in Washington DC (and the introduction of adorable puppy Cletus), and he’s got a few excellent dramatic scenes. Not really any comedic, just a handful of reminders Reynolds can act the hell out of any tone.
The A-plot involves everyone—including Tudyk—discovering human Tudyk has a teenage daughter, played by Taylor Blackwell. Thanks to bad dad tropes, they’re quickly able to get to absolutely hilarious montages of Tudyk trying to ingratiate himself to Blackwell; they just keep getting funnier as the episode progresses. The only missed opportunity is Blackwell getting to hang out with Prehn and Rinke (but she can’t because she can’t know Tudyk’s an alien).
Everyone ends up at the town’s annual Family Day, which mayor Fiehler has partially reimagined as a way to better advertise the town to tourists. There’s a play starring kids, involving lots of blood, guts, and boulders. It’s awesome.
The script, credited to Biniam Bizuneh (first-time script credit, though previous story editor credits), is fantastic. Not just in the comedy, but in the multiple tough talks the characters have to have with one another. Lots of good acting from Tudyk and Tomko opposite a wide variety of supporting cast members. Also, Blackwell’s a perfect foil for Tudyk (and Tomko). Her appearance, just as Tudyk’s understanding liking babies (before they turn into shitty teens) and Tomko’s got her… trauma arc? Oh, yeah. Okay. “Resident Alien”’s core plotline is Tomko’s trauma and recovery arc; I’m embarrassed it took me so long to describe it as such.
Anyway. It’s the right time and the right character to introduce. And Blackwell’s the right performance. She’s appropriately sullen, sardonic, and sympathetic. I also can’t believe how well they integrated her into the plot on her first appearance.
Lea Thompson directs, which seemed notable as trivia during the opening titles, but she does a fine job balancing the absurd comedy and the human drama.
“Resident Alien” keeps impressing in new ways; season two’s outstanding.