DVD Review – ‘Alien Nation: The Complete Series’

     January 14, 2006

Posted by Frosty

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Review by Richard Toledo

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In 1989 the Fox network introduced an unusual new program into their primetime schedule.; Alien Nation, a hybrid buddy cop/action dramedy, achieved cult status but never a gained a significant audience, resulting in cancellation after just one season.; All 22 episodes are finally released 16 years later here on Alien Nation – The Complete Series DVD set.

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The 90-minute pilot, and every subsequent episode, begins with news footage that recaps how these “Newcomers” arrived and the manner with which they were dealt.; Apparently there was a slave ship found drifting aimlessly over the Mojave Desert with some 250,000 slaves (bred to adapt and labor in any environment, according to the voice over) aboard.; After being quarantined in a section of Los Angeles for 3 years – to insure they are no biological threat to humans – they are allowed to integrate with the human population, much to the chagrin of “purists” who proudly wear buttons proclaiming “Keep America Pure!”; Such is the concept for this short-lived program and the 1988 film on which it’s based.;

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The show itself begins 2 years after quarantine ends in 1995.; It is a highly original and unconventional set up that unfortunately does not deliver.; The series, a modern allegory on civil rights and race relations, ultimately comes up short.; Its goal, while ambitious, is poorly e;xe;cute;d as it becomes much too conventional in its depiction of “immigrant” strife and domesticity.

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Not all is a lost cause.; The characters are likable and feel fully fleshed out, especially the two leads: human LAPD Detective Matt Sikes (Gary Graham) and his newly appointed Newcomer partner George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint).; The interplay between these two is at the heart of the show – and where most of the comedy is derived.; Sikes is a bit wary of having a Newcomer as a partner since it was Newcomers who killed his previous partner during an armed robbery.; He constantly refers to his new partner, and every other Newcomer, with the colorful term “slag,” which is a derogatory word for the aliens.; (On that note, the pilot episode somehow manages to work in every racial slur known to man, none of which I’ll repeat here.);

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The episodes are engaging and move along at a brisk pace.; A few of the sub-plots just feel like filler, such as Francisco’s wife going on job interviews or his teenage son shooting a gangster (don’t ask).; Others, such as Sikes reluctantly joining the Big Brother program, show character depth that is necessary for us to feel like these are real and conflicted people.; One of the best story arcs in the series involves the very complicated and mutual attraction between Sikes and a female Newcomer who has just moved in to his building.;

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The biggest let down for fans of course is the fact that this show was cancelled at the end of its first season, thus there are several cliffhangers left unresolved in the season finale.; Since the end of the series there have been 5 Alien Nation TV movies which resolves this issue, though as of yet none are currently available on DVD.

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Extras

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All that’s offered here is a standard “Behind the Scenes” featurette and commentary on the pilot episode from writer/director Kenneth Johnson.; The featurette could have been very good if it had been longer than 3 ½ minutes.; At that length, why bother?; The commentary from Johnson is both informative and entertaining.; He comes off as very intelligent and humble.; At one point he says “the blame rests with me” regarding the failure of the show.; The DVDs themselves are on 6 cheap single-layer, dual-sided discs.; The picture quality is very poor, as is the sound.; Very little thought or effort went into the making of the set.

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Final Words

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In spite of how I initially disliked the show, I found myself becoming more and more involved as I progressed through the episodes.; The dialogue is laughable, the acting either wooden or overly theatrical, but it was somewhat enjoyable. This set is only for die-hard fans of the show.; Aficionados of cheesy sci-fi will also enjoy the series but may be unwilling to spend so much (list price: $49.99) for a poorly produced DVD set.;;;

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