TBS is a network for experimental sitcoms, so their latest offering, PEOPLE OF EARTH, should fit right in. An accomplished journalist is assigned to cover a support group for people who believe they have been abducted by aliens. Anxious to get past that waste of time and onto something meaningful, he barely gives the theories of the crazy people a second thought… until he has an extraterrestrial encounter of his own.
Yep, it sounds like a bizarre premise, and it is. It gets even more bizarre when viewers get to start seeing the aliens, knowing this isn’t just conspiracy theories, and is actually a real problem. The aliens plan to take over the world and aren’t too happy that our hero, Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac, The Daily Show), is onto them. After all, no one is going to listen to a bunch of crackpots, but an actual reporter who is determined to find proof? That could threaten all of their plans!
I like the cast of this show. Besides Cenac, the large ensemble includes Ana Gasteyer (Suburgatory, Saturday Night Live), Luka Jones (Up All Night), Brian Huskey (Another Period), Michael Cassidy (The Magicians), Oscar Nunez (The Office), Nancy Lenehan (My Name Is Earl), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Selfie), Alice Wetterlund (Silicon Valley), Daniel Sherman (Run All Night), and Tracee Chimo (Orange Is the New Black). This isn’t an A-list bunch, but there are quite a few familiar faces, and some very funny people on the list.
I also like the concept. Alien abductions are usually dismissed as nonsense, and if they were to be played for laughs, it’s by laughing at the characters. Here, we have some people who fit that stereotype of someone who isn’t to be believed, but knowing they’re right changes the dynamic and feel of the series. It’s kind of a weird world that doesn’t feel like our own reality, even though it looks and sounds like it, which makes for an interesting watching experience.
Where it goes wrong for me is the execution. The aliens themselves aren’t portrayed nearly as well as they could be. They are an inept bunch, even though they’ve been able to operate in the shadows for some time. They’re too sloppy to feel realistic. There are plot holes, one of the invaders making a very strange decision in retrospect, which feels very obvious by episode two. We’re still very much in the dark about who they are and what they want, but there doesn’t appear to be a cohesive idea behind them that will make the mystery worth it. And, while some have cool designs, others are pretty lame.
Because of that, I don’t know where this is going, and I’m not that interested in finding out. If PEOPLE OF EARTH can’t get through two half-hour installments without making me doubt the reality they’re presenting, I don’t know that I can stomach a weekly show that may not pay off.
The one aspect that gives me a bit of hope is that delusions that Ozzie experiences. By setting the narrator up to be unreliable, there is a possibility that the inconsistencies and plot holes could be purposeful, clues that not all is as it seems to be to those of us watching at home (another level beyond the ignorant, unprepared humans who don’t know the aliens are coming). If this were embraced more fully, PEOPLE OF EARTH could be a ground-breaking sitcom.
I just don’t think that’s where it’s going, though, so while I was amused and interested in the first couple of installments, I’m not sold on continuing, especially on a network that had yet to distinguish itself as consistently reliable in the comedy realm, airing both good series and total duds, often at the same time.
PEOPLE OF EARTH premieres tonight at 10/9c on TBS.