Resident Alien begins tonight on Syfy, and while it is based on a series of graphic novels created by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, it’s coming to TV thanks to Chris Sheridan.
Sheridan had been writing on and off for Family Guy for almost two decades when Amblin Television approached him in 2015 about his interest in an adaptation. Picking up the graphic novels, Sheridan fell in love with what Hogan and Parkhouse created and went all in.
Fast-forward five and a half years, and Resident Alien is finally making it to the small screen.
Needless to say, this series is a labor of love for Sheridan, who admitted to taking time with the process and doing it for himself instead of focusing on the intent to sell the final product with the belief that his approach makes the result more specific and interesting.
“I went into this process not trying to sell it, not trying to write something that anyone else but myself would like, not trying to make anyone else happy, except for myself and willing to sort of try to blend a bunch of tones together, even though it was something that hasn’t been done a lot in television these days because it’s different and it’s something that I would want to watch,” Sheridan said.
But will using that tact allow those who love the foundational novels to recognize it when the show premieres? Sheridan thinks so.
“I try to keep the sense of the comic in the series. And the comic follows an alien named Harry Vanderspeigle. I kept many of the characters in one way or another other, although I changed the characters a little bit, and I added a couple of my own,” Sheridan said.
One of the most significant differences is how the main character, alien Harry Vanderspeigle, is viewed (literally).
“The comic follows this alien Harry Vanderspeigle, who in the comic looks like an alien all the time, but we just understand him in the comics. Other people see this alien as a human, but we never see what that human being looks like.
“So in the comic, it’s just an alien with human clothes on, basically that we’re looking at. And the comic follows Harry Vanderspeigle as he works with the town doctor and solves some murders in town and around town and observes human weaknesses and human strengths and stuff like that.”
Sheridan kept Harry’s observational nature, added a few more scenarios and activity for Harry, and gave him a mission to accomplish while he’s getting the read on human nature.
“One of the biggest changes I had to make was in the TV show, for a couple of reasons, I knew I couldn’t get away with just having the character of Harry Vanderspeigle just look like an alien the whole time.
“Largely because I think television viewers attach themselves to humans. And I think putting a mask on an actor is another level removed for the audience. So I felt it important for them to sort of attach themselves to an actor in the role.”
Not to mention the prohibitive nature of prolonged use of special effects. Instead, they use the alien visage in Harry’s reflections and through a child in town who can see Harry for what he really is.
The pilot was completed a couple of years ago, and about 900 fans got a look at it at New York Comic Con in 2019, so the anticipation for Resident Alien has been building for a while now.
Part of that anticipation comes from Sheridan’s history with Family Guy and other productions. He’s a respected name in the business, and he knows comedy. But he also wrangled one of the best casts to bring his labor of love into existence.
“I thought I knew who Harry Vanderspeigle was until Alan [Tudyk] came in. And it wasn’t until Alan came in and auditioned that I suddenly was like, ‘Oh, that’s the guy.'”
It wasn’t the character Sheridan had been picturing all along. “I was picturing it sort of flatter. A little bit straighter. A little more dry. And he plays that. He plays it straight, and he plays it dry, but there’s something under it that I didn’t think of.
“Under it is a combination of under Alan’s performance, it’s like there’s a humanity there. There’s sort of a cleverness there, and there’s a wit there that the alien sort of has.”
Every actor presents something special to the production, and Sheridan is thrilled to give them all the kudos they deserve.
The Closer’s Corey Reynolds is surprisingly adept at comedic timing. Even Sheridan was floored when Reynolds suggested that Sheriff Mike, his character, be really good at something unique and proceeded to offer his expertise in, wait for it, and beatboxing.
That talent results in one of the funnier moments during Resident Alien Season 1 Episode 1, in which Sheriff Mike and his deputy, Liv (Liz Bowen), become their own musical accompaniment during a stakeout scene.
“Originally, that scene was in the pilot was Sheriff Mike being suspicious of Harry Vanderspeigle because [of a missing body]. It’s originally just him without the deputy with him, driving up to the clinic, hopping out, and confronting Harry Vanderspeigle.
“So instead of that, I rewrote the script that day, and I said, ‘We’re going to just put you in a car, sort of on a stakeout, sitting there. And we’ll put a Deputy Liv with you.’ Deputy Liv is played by Liz Bowen, who’s done improv for 20 years. She’s incredible.
“And I said, ‘The scene is basically going to be, she wants to turn on the radio. You’re offended because why would she possibly want to listen to the radio when you could beatbox for her? And then you start beatboxing and just see where it goes.’
“And then that’s how we shot it. We set the cameras up, and both of them just sort of improved that scene. And it’s one of the best scenes in the pilot.”
Through this experience, Sheridan came to understand that Harry’s connection with humans would be an incredible draw. “He basically approaches everything like a 10-year-old boy,” Sheridan said.
Harry’s encounters with Max, the nine-year-old who can see him, took on a different dimension.
“This is not an adult man fighting with a child. This is two children fighting. One of them just happens to look like he’s 45 years old. And that was a surprise. I didn’t think of it until we started getting in there and playing, and Alan was doing what he was doing.”
Their interactions became a signature for Harry, especially since they could mine Tudyk’s performance for Harry’s childishness and immaturity. “He doesn’t know how to treat people. He doesn’t quite have the empathy yet because, like a child, he hasn’t quite learned it yet, but that’s part of his journey.”
Sheridan enjoys discovering what everyone on board the production can contribute.
“Liz Bowen was hired as Deputy Liv. The plan was not to put her in every episode, but she’s so funny and worked so perfectly with Sheriff Mike and balances it out so well that she’s now in every episode, but that wasn’t the plan. It’s that way because she just works so well. And she’s such a talented performer.
“Alice Wetterlund gave me a dimension I didn’t expect in the character of D’arcy Bloom, the bartender. She wasn’t even what I wrote.
“I was expecting sort of a 20-ish-year-old kind of wide-eyed innocent woman to counteract a lot of the negativity that ultimately is going through and to try to balance that out with positivity. And then Alice came in and did her thing, which is just a little bit darker. It’s very funny, but it’s sort of dark and sad in a way.
“But she’s so talented. She’s so great at improv, and she’s such a great actress that what she ended up doing was doing exactly what I wanted with a character, but in a different way. D’arcy now balances out for us not with light positivity but with comedy. And the comedy can be dark, and it can be edgy, but it’s still comedy. And it draws Asta [Twelvetrees] into the comedy a little bit.”
It was during production that Sheridan discovered how well Sara Tomko [Asta] and Wetterlund worked together. They play best friends who grew up together, and both tried to escape Patience, Colorado, to follow their dreams, so their on-screen chemistry added a new dimension to their relationship.
“Their dreams didn’t work out, and they ended up back home. They’re licking their wounds a little bit and trying to figure out what the next stage of life is going to be. And they have that in common, and that sort of binds them together,” Sheridan said.
“And it was very special seeing that extra dimension that Alice brought to the relationship because D’arcy was a character that I created myself and did not take from the comic.
“I wasn’t 100% sure how to use that character, except that I knew I needed someone to try to balance out Asta, being a friend to Asta, someone for Asta to sort of talk to. And Alice brought something to it that I didn’t see coming. And I embraced because it made the character so much richer.”
There is chemistry behind the scenes weaving a rich tapestry for the characters of Resident Alien.
Sheridan said, “It’s across the board. Levi Fiehler and Meredith Garretson, who plays the Mayor, Ben, and his wife, Kate. Their relationship is just fantastic. They balanced each other out perfectly.
“That is something that you just pray for when you’re casting. And you just never know how the cast is going to work together. You hope that they will. You hope they have chemistry.
“And what we found across the board and over and over again, is that not only do Levi and Meredith playing Ben and Kate have chemistry with one another, or Alice and Sara have chemistry as Asta and D’arcy, but crossing over any of the characters with any of the characters, there’s a chemistry that happens that seems so natural because most of them are either from this small town or are sort of new to the town, but it feels very real. And it’s been a treat this whole first season.”
When it comes to what a second-season renewal might bring, these relationships have given Sheridan a wealth of ideas.
For instance, when writing the first season, Sheridan had no idea that Garretson and Tomko were best friends in real life. He recognized their on-screen rapport, and upon realizing the truth of it, would love to feature them in more scenes together should he get the opportunity.
Sheridan also sees the scope of possibilities because of how hard he worked to fully flesh out the characters and Patience, Colorado, with the hope that if the alien were never introduced at all, the town and its inhabitants could be a show unto itself.
“There are just so many places to go with these characters,” Sheridan said.
“And then I felt if I could succeed at that, then taking the alien and dropping the alien down into the mix would be a great way for the alien to be able to observe humanity through these new eyes of a child coming into this world and seeing our characters in town together.
“So it also would take a lot of the pressure off of the alien story because other stories were going on. And it would mostly just make the world feel a little more rich and three dimensional.”
To determine for yourself whether Resident Alien is a success, you’ll need to tune into Syfy tonight at 10/9c to watch the premiere.
We’ll also be covering the show weekly, so cage your excitement and share it all with us here at TV Fanatic afterward. What do you think? Are you in for a stay in Patience, Colorado?
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.