People of Earth, a new comedy from TBS about a support group of people that claim to have been abducted by aliens, debuts on Halloween, Monday October 31st. Below is our spoiler free review.
The premise for People of Earth is a lot like a Christopher Guest movie. It involves large group of slightly off people brought together by a very strange connection that the rest of the world scoffs at. In this case the characters are (mostly) united by their own experiences with an alien abduction. It’s a concept ripe for opportunity, but like a Guest film the line it has to walk is making it so we can laugh with the characters without feeling too badly about laughing at them. The problem is we don’t get to laugh enough.
The star of the show and driving force of the story is Ozzie Graham, played by Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show) in a role that fits him perfectly, as he gets to be quietly incredulous but still likable. Ozzie is a successful a journalist who writes an unflattering story about these people that he thinks are freaks, but who then quickly becomes a member after having his own questionable “experience.”
There isn’t a weak link to be found in the large cast (which includes personal favorites Nancy Lenehan, H. Jon Benjamin, Brian Huskey, and Oscar Nunez), and through the first four episodes almost everyone gets a moment to shine. The trade off is that you find yourself wanting more time with certain characters, like Ana Gasteyer, who plays the group’s leader, and feels not only underused but also somewhat misused (perhaps due to the sheer size of the cast). Her character, like most of the group, is so broken from life that she’s usually playing sad instead of getting to be funny.
Because for the most part the beginning of the show is about making us understand who these people are, some of whom recognize the sadness of their life, and some who still don’t recognize just how lonely they are. The balance between making us care about the people and making us laugh skews too much on the sad side and it’s a problem People of Earth will need to solve to get better as it goes forward. But the good news is there is promise, because the times when the show is laugh out loud funny are truly laudable, it’s just that those moments don’t involve the people of earth—rather the aliens in space.
Don’t worry, we’re not giving anything away that you can’t see in the trailer above. The show doesn’t take long to address whether or not the outrageous claims of the group members have any legitimacy anyway, and it is better for it. First, because we don’t have to worry about laughing at a bunch of lonely losers, but more importantly because the scenes that take place on the ship involving the three types of aliens discussed by the group (the Reptilians, the Greys, and the Whites) are the show’s best moments.
TheSE scenes there are like The Office meets Veep, but with language you can air on TBS. Actor Ken Hall, who plays “Jeff the Grey,” steals every scene he is in (too bad for him no one will know what he looks like under all that makeup), and while you don’t want to overdo them and ruin the fun with over-saturation, the difference in comedy between those moments and the moments back on earth do leave you eager to get away from the group.
There are also enough questions being raised by the show—beyond just what may have happened to the individual members—to give the writers plenty to play with going forward. The mystery of what the Reptilians are planning, who may or may not be what they say they are, Ozzie’s own history with aliens, and a potential revenge plot should mean they show doesn’t have to worry about going stale any time soon. There’s a freedom of strangeness that should be a lot of fun to explore.
It just needs to work on the balance between making us care about the actual people of earth and making us laugh. Once they find that, and there’s plenty of reasons to think they will since this isn’t the first time an ensemble show like this has had to find it’s footing, they should have a winner.
For now it just gets 2.5 burritos, but we’re coming back for seconds because we think the kitchen is figuring things out after a rough start:
What are you looking forward to with People of Earth? Tell us in the comments below.