I had the pleasure of doing a short post on brothers Kenny and Michael Mittleider’s Alien Nation: The Newcomer’s Podcast around the time I was just beginning to blog. I told myself I really needed to watch that series again, so I finally did.
I still love it.
Alien Nation was a TV series which ran for one season 1989-1990 with five later TV movies coming after. (Those are available in a box set which unfortunately I haven’t been able to do a re-watch of). I was based on a SF film starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin which was in turn based on an SF novel. Alien Nation: the series begins about five years after ships carrying alien slaves crash on earth. The aliens, the Tenctonese, called Newcomers are slowly integrated into modern American life. The show follows the lives of two police officers: Matthew Sikes (Gary Graham) a human officer with a host of personal issues; and George Francisco( Eric Pierpoint), a Newcomer with a wife and children. From the series, it seems that most Newcomers are still in the L.A. area with few in other parts of the country. (In one episode an old friend of Matt’s comes to visit and it is the first time he’s seen a Newcomer. There are no episodes discussion whether or not there are Newcomers in other countries.) Also, there are no specific dates given, but I had the impression it was to be set in the ‘near future’.
George Francisco is one of the first Newcomer’s to have the rank of detective. From his viewpoint, we learn much about Tenctonese society. The Newcomer’s were bred and shipped as slaves; much of their original culture is lost. There are a very different species from humans. The eat raw vegetables and raw meat; drink sour milk; are bald with a pattern of spots. And they have a third gender, binnaum males, which are necessary for reproduction.
There is all sorts of creative species world building, but the real strength of the Newcomers is in watching the clashes and conflicts of the alien culture in flux. Integration into a new world and culture is not easy for all of the Newcomers. Many do not trust humans or the police. Some are mentally unable to function in a society of freedom when they have always been slaves. The hatred between former slave Newcomers and Overseer Newcomers is apparent. There are underclasses who are looked down own; a third gender which struggles with its status and lifestyle in a new world; traditionalists who fear losing their ways to human culture. I would have loved to see the series develop-as the Newcomers no longer have their shared oppression to unify them what will happen? Will the divisions deepen?
We even get to see the flaws in George Francisco-he’s a hero and easy to empathize with but he’s rigid at times and not always right. His relationship with his son Buck is struggling. I think Eric Pierpoint did a wonderful job portraying George.
Matt Sikes is the human officer working with George who grapples with the differences between him and his partner. Often, the differences between human and Newcomer cultures push Matt to examine his own social attitudes. His slowly growing relationship with a Newcomer woman named Cathy adds for some interesting exploration of male/female gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality. And Gary Graham is a fun actor to watch.
As the series progresses, we see character growth in both Matt and George and its affects on their working relationship. Also, the mood of the story lines change. Though it was always fundamentally a show borrowing from gritty cop genre with an alien twist, the darker tone emerges as we begin to see the threads of Newcomer society unravel and the Purist faction (humans only) become more sinister. The fear of Newcomers increases not only because of cultural differences; but also because Newcomers are stronger, more intelligent, and more adaptable. Is their in all of us a fundamental fear of extinction?
Alien Nation is a show that makes no bones about its desire to use its setting to discuss social issues-but good writing means that its done in a nuanced way that never settles into lecture. It’s a shame the show did not last longer.
In conclusion, blog readers, Alien Nation is well worth your time. If you’ve seen it, watch it again. Don’t forget your English to Tenctonese language app and your sour milk.
So blog readers, any suggestions of SFR books out there with alien cultures that stand out for you?