Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aliens Among Us

3rd Rock From the Sun (1996-2001)
Creators:  Bonnie and Terry Turner
Starring:  John Lithgow, Jane Curtin, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Co-starring:  Elmarie Wendell, Simbi Khali, and Wayne Knight

The nineties was the decade of extraterrestrial entertainment.  On The X-Files (1993-2002) FBI agents Scully and Mulder worked to uncover evidence of extraterrestrial life.  Will Smith fought aliens in both Independence Day (1996) and Men in Black (1997).  Martin O'Hara landed on earth in a movie remake of My Favorite Martian (1999).  Most irreverent of all were the Solomons of 3rd Rock from the Sun.

3rd Rock, unlike other alien entertainment, is told from the perspective of the alien:  The Solomons are four extraterrestrials disguised as humans in Rutherford, Ohio, whose mission is to discover everything they can about the human experience.  Dick their High Commander takes on the role of a physics professor; Sally the military expert poses as his sister "the woman"; Tommy the intelligence expert and the oldest member of the group is to be Dick's teenage son, and the transmitter is the slow-witted, deadbeat brother Harry.  Actual humans include Mary, Dick's neurotic colleague and paramour; Nina, his sarcastic secretary; Ms. Dubcek, their lascivious landlady; and Officer Don, an incompetent policeman and Sally's love interest.

With its broad comedic strokes 3rd Rock satirizes the nineties in a most delightful way, touching on everything from politics to daytime talk shows to art movies to John Grisham novels to Lord of the Dance to the Beanie Baby craze to alien obsession.  All the characters, be they the main cast or those with but a bit part, are cast with wonderfully talented actors.  Those in the roles of the Solomons brilliantly portray what it would be like to experience something for the first time.  And everything they do is being done for the first time.  Most entertaining is their dealings with feelings, all without any actual human inhibitions.

Some of the many things I like about 3rd Rock include the preponderance of green in the actors' clothes and the set decorations, Harry's wardrobe, Sally's swagger, Dick's hamminess, Tommy's one-liners, John Cleese as a visiting alien, Kathy Bates as an alien hunter, and William Shatner as The Big Giant Head.  I never see this show on lists of best comedies or best television programs, but 3rd Rock from the Sun deserves to be in the top ten of both such lists.

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