The Fox sci-fi series Alien Nation was one of my favorite shows of the late 1980s, and an early example of Fox's disdain for great science fiction: Keep it on for a season, end on a cliffhanger, and then cancel it while fans howl. (To be fair, Fox cancelled a lot of shows that year, 1990; it wasn't singling out this one.)
Fox relented in the '90s and got five well-received Alien Nation movies on the air, and now they're on DVD for the first time. This three-disc set includes two discs that are double-sided, which is, frankly, a pain in the ass (and could result in some weirdness if your player doesn't understand, as mine did not, that you've turned the disc over, and it wants to resume from the last stop on the other side). But that's okay, because these five movies -- Dark Horizon (aired October 1994), Body and Soul (aired October 1995), Millennium (aired January 1996), The Enemy Within (aired November 1996), and The Udara Legacy (aired July 1997) -- pretty much constitute a short second season of the show.
I haven't seen these movies since they first aired, and it was a delight to catch up with the Franciscos -- the alien Tenctonese immigrants to Los Angeles -- and human Detective Matt Sikes (Gary Graham), who's trying his best, dammit, to be a good cop partner to George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint) and not be too much of a bigot when it comes to dealing with the quarter of a million Tenctonese, who crashed landed in the Mojave Desert five years earlier. These five movies move events along further: the Francisco kids grow up, Matt and alien doctor Cathy Frankel (Terri Treas) start a serious romantic relationship, and the human culture learns how to cope with aliens living among us.
There are some clever bits of satire on Fox itself and the dumbing down of TV in the third film, Millennium, but mostly these five movies do what the single season of the series did best: explore concepts of prejudice -- racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and more -- by turning them on their bald, spotted heads. With so much more fodder for the creative team to play with ten years after they made these films, I'd love to see them return for another five movies. How are the Tenctonese doing twenty years after landing... and in the Homeland Security era?
The set is loaded with enough extras to please devotees. The first four movies include making-of featurettes that make up for what they lack in pizzazz by being jam-packed with all sorts of tidbits and trivia that will enthrall production junkies. Ditto the commentaries on all five films by executive producer and director Kenneth Johnson. (Did you know that the Tenctonese language is so intricate that at least one doctoral thesis has been written about it? Cool.) Skip the gag reels for the first four films -- they're not particularly funny or gaggy, though we do learn that apparently Gary Graham was incapable of remembering his lines -- but don't miss the cast reunion video, shot last year, on the final disc, which is full of wonderfully warm reminiscences of the show from the people who made it.
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
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