David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

thoughts on ALIEN NATION

So, I'm rewatching the ALIEN NATION pilot, and... wow, it's still got great character work, and Gary Graham was a little rough to start off but got better, and Eric Pierpoint was fabulous from the get-go, and Terri Treas is hot like all get-out, and Michelle Scarabelli was terrific... and, um, I yield to no one in my love of Kenneth Johnson, but my GOD was the term "on the nose" ever invented to describe the show's allegory. Seriously, watching Sykes's speechifying scene in the pilot, in front of the people who don't want the alien child Emily Francisco going to public school, made me want to write Aaron Sorkin a thank-you note for having had the courtesy to dial it back a little.

On the one hand, the politics are annoying -- Johnson is smugly happy to make political opponents of Newcomer interests not just wrong, not just misguided, but evil; in the world of ALIEN NATION, all people fall into two categories: those who empathize with the Newcomers, or who will but just haven't yet and are thus redeemable (e.g., Sykes); and EVIL TOTALITARIAN FASCISTS (e.g., the Purists). On the other hand, the politics are fascinating as a snapshot of the time. Because the show could not be made the same way today. At all. Especially its politics.

For one thing, the Newcomers would be arriving in a vastly different Los Angeles. I'm pretty sure that Johnson would want to make the illegal-alien allegory even more strongly -- but we've had seventeen more years of increasingly heavy identity politics, particularly in LA. He'd have to play more with the idea of the Newcomers as a real distinct community, and not just as a stand-in for The Minority of The Week; you'd have to have the Hispanic community involved in a major way. ("Wait, these guys crash in a spaceship and get U.S. citizenship within five years? How does that work exactly, and can we get some?")

And the Purist stuff would be even more questionable. There are only two hundred and fifty thousand Newcomers; they do have a much faster gestation period than humans (four months), but it also takes three of them to make a baby (the Binnaum, more or less a third sex, provides a necessary catalyst; the limited number of Binnaums thus restricts the extent to which the species can spread, geographically). Contrast that to, say, the much much larger number of *human* aliens illegally in the US, which is estimated to be much higher -- what are the numbers tossed around most, 12 to 14 million? There aren't enough Newcomers to even come close to that. Politically, they're not just not a threat, they're not even a statistical blip! So their arrival wouldn't cause anywhere near the political shakes that Johnson postulates. Thinking about it, the most interesting political treatment would be one that deals with the Newcomers trying to assimilate the concept of identity politics -- figuring out who to ally with, on what, and how.

(Actually, I just realized: their limited numbers make the Newcomers a very desirable immigrant group, if you're somewhat cynical and in comfortable control of an existing country. There are too few of them to displace the existing population, or even make a large impact beyond a limited geographical area. They don't have contact with their homeland, because they don't know where it is, and so you don't have to deal with the problems posed by lots and lots of additional Newcomers wanting to come. Plus, they can't send money home Western Union, so everything they earn stays here. They'll be doing more cultural assimilation than you will, and their political impact is going to be necessarily limited; because the Binnaum is so critical to their reproduction, controlling Newcomer reproduction would be incredibly easy, if you're inclined to be ruthless and authoritarian. They're also very smart, extremely strong, and capable of taking a hell of a lot more damage than humans, so they'd be terrific soldiers. If I were writing a present-day sequel to ALIEN NATION, I'd start with the premise that China and Russia were VERY INTERESTED in getting Newcomer populations of their own... and sending signals into deep space that lead to lots and lots and LOTS of slave ships in orbit around earth, helmed by slaves who'd offed their Overseers on the beamed-out promise of a better life in Moscow or Shanghai...)

Best thing about the internet: you no longer have to wonder "whatever happened to." At least, most of the time. Graham and Pierpoint are both working as character actors and doing quite well, thank you. Ditto Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who played Sergeant Dobbs; he's one of those guys whose name you don't know but if you see him he looks vaguely familiar, because during the 1990s he was in absolutely everything. Scarabelli, Jeff Marcus, who played the endearing Albert Einstein, and Ron Fassler, who portrayed the memorable prick of a captain, aren't working as often, but they're still doing TV and film occasionally. Some folks seem to have changed venues or careers; Terri Treas (Cathy) hasn't had any film credits since the last of the TV movies, and Sean Six, who was was quite good as the Francisco's teen son, Buck, hasn't appeared in anything else that I can find.

And Lauren Woodland, who played little Emily Francisco? She grew up nice.

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