Alibi V.25 No.43 • Oct 27-Nov 2, 2016 

Idiot Box

Aliens Did It

“People of Earth” on TBS

TBS finds a relatively fresh vein of comedy to mine in its new alien abduction sitcom “People of Earth.” It’s more or less what you’d get if you took a vintage episode of “The X-Files” and added a laugh track. Executive produced by (among others) Greg Daniels (of “The Office”) and late night talker Conan O’Brien, the series features a smartly chosen cast, some well-toned dialogue and just enough depth of premise to keep viewers tuning in on a weekly basis

Our main man here is Ozzie Graham (former “Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac), a skeptical big city journalist working for a glossy online magazine. A minor fluff piece sends him to small town Beacon, N.Y., to profile the StarCrossed, a support group for people who believe they have been abducted by space aliens. These abductees (or “experiencers” as they prefer to be called) are a mismatched lot (including Ana Gasteyer from “Saturday Night Live,” Alice Wetterlund from “Silicon Valley,” Brian Huskey from “Another Period” and Tracee Chimo from “Orange is the New Black”). They seem to have nothing in common and can’t even agree whether they were kidnapped by reptilians or grays or aliens that look like Ryan Gosling, “only albino. And nine feet tall.”

Ozzie pens his story, mostly writing the group off as a bunch of wackos, but there’s something about it he can’t shake. Just before the interview, he was involved in a traumatic late-night car accident—coincidentally right outside Beacon. And there are some chilling similarities between his accident and the descriptions of alien abduction he’s hearing about. Add to that the fact that our reporter is experiencing vivid nightmares and hallucinating madly during the day, and you’ve got reason to believe there’s some kind of connection. “There is dickery afoot in Beacon,” confides one conspiracy buff. “Alien dickery!” By the end of the pilot episode, Ozzie is a convert. He quits his job, moves to Beacon and become a member of the StarCrossed.

The show spends most of its time in the church where the members of StarCrossed meet. Oscar Nuñez (from “The Office”) drops by as the sympathetic but constantly concerned priest who approved the group to meet inside the church. (At one point, he pops in just as two members are arguing over whether or not they had a sexual encounter with the exact same alien.) Much of the show’s humor is derived from the interactions of this kooky band of characters. Still, the show isn’t all giggles. There’s a more serious undercurrent suggesting an international conspiracy to cover up the truth about aliens and their sinister purpose on Earth. The alien kidnappers—a trio of snarky, squabbling coworkers as mismatched as the members of StarCrossed—eventually make regular cameos. This expands the scope of “People of Earth” significantly and contributes some of the show’s funniest moments.

“People of Earth” isn’t completely overflowing with punchlines, but the seasoned cast makes the best of its interactions. The storylines show noticeable evolution from episode to episode, indicating that the creators have a long-term plan in mind. So come for the comedy, stay for the conspiracy.

“People of Earth” premieres Monday, Oct. 31, at 7pm on TBS.