“You are special.”
Over the past few years, TBS has been knocking out its original programming of the park by banking on distinct shows such as Angie Tribeca, Wrecked, and The Detour.
In that sense, People of Earth fits in perfectly with the cabal of misfit toys that populate the network’s schedule. There are scenes from this show that are unlike anything else you’ll see on any other sitcoms that are currently airing. It simultaneously gives People of Earth a lot of leeway for taking creative gambles, but it also means you better be damn good at what you’re doing. People of Earth comes out of the gate looking pretty damn good, while hinting at a series that has the potential to become even more interesting as it goes on.
They’re the gimmick in People of Earth. Only they’re not being treated like a gimmick at all (except when they are). Instead they take on the topic with a tremendous amount of maturity and curiosity, shining light on the people involved in “abductions” with respect and honesty.
Yes, this is a show that has treadmill desks, several types of alien species, and (frequent) talking deer, but it is also deeply interested in the humanity and sense of community that can be hiding underneath those blinding tractor beams.
Right from the start, People of Earth feels very different for a pilot. It’s almost like you’re an abductee yourself. Ozzie Graham (played thoughtfully by Wyatt Cenac) is our entry point into this series. The skeptically optimistic Ozzie is a Pulitzer-chasing journalist who is profiling Star Crossed, a support group of alien experiencers (the term “abductee” is akin to slut shaming, we learn) and this is where the chaos really begins. We get to meet a wide range of support group members, consisting of the likes of character actors such as Brian Huskey as a guileless Ethernet jack salesman with a heavy hang up with Reptilians, Ana Gasteyer, and Oscar Nunez as a priest.
In spite of Cenac’s Ozzie, this is truly an ensemble vehicle with everyone getting a chance to shine here. Not only that, but by the time this very busy pilot is over you actually manage to start caring about these weirdoes already.
Additionally, for every outlandish story that we’re given, the series balances it out with some glimpse of compassion. Amidst all of this, the show operates pretty straight in its tone and chooses not to show its hand too much with the wacky alien business. It lets you decide when to laugh with these people rather than depicting them as punch lines.
As Ozzie continues profiling these people he begins to realize that he might have more in common with them than he originally thought.
The series spends a lot of time on just meeting these off kilter victims, their stories, who they are, and Ozzie’s increased fascination about it all, as well as what’s going on with the problems he’s been experiencing lately. The series pushes the idea that these people are not victims, but actually special, chosen individuals who can finally fulfill their purpose and do something. And if it’s not aliens that are behind this, then what IS going on in this hotbed (it’s surely a lot more than just “alien dickery” being afoot in Beacon, NY)? This degree of mystery amounts to quite the solid premise that has definite legs.
People of Earth is very interested in humanizing this niche of individuals as well as unearthing why they believe the things that they do, but the show also looks pretty damn gorgeous while it’s opening up your mind. Greg Daniels directs the pilot (as well as the season finale, I’m told) and it contains perhaps some of the most beautiful cinematography that he’s worked with. Beacon, New York (which is real, by the way), is shot with such curious abandon. All of the abductee—er I mean, experiencer scenes are gorgeous set pieces to behold. The Reptilians in question are particularly well executed and seem far from derivative. The idea that these fantastical aliens are actually mundane, blasé individuals, on the other hand, is a little less fresh but the show still makes it work.
Created by David Kissinger and David Jenkins (with Conan O’Brien’s Conaco handling the producing duties, along with the always reliable Greg Daniels), the two have spoken about intentionally creating a binge-friendly approach to their storytelling, even if the show is still airing from week to week. People of Earth’s pilot does a suitable job at showing off the addictive sort of narrative that will be in play here. The energy presumably is only going to get stronger as the show progresses. For instance, the pilot closes on a colossal twist that should leave all audiences hungry for the next chapter in this story.
While much of the DNA of this pilot is concerned with debunking what’s false and establishing what’s true in this off kilter world, the episode also has a lot of introduction duty to take care of. People of Earth has a lot of characters, which is far from a negative thing. It just leaves this first episode feeling especially packed accordingly.
A lot of this is standard pilot housekeeping, but Kissinger and Jenkins have said that this is a show that really has no set format. Each entry operates off of a different sort of roadmap, which frankly is likely the best decision for a show of this nature. Don’t allow it to develop a pattern and then become crippled by it. There have been an in flux of shows lately, such as The Last Man on Earth, The Good Place, and Jon Glaser Loves Gear that pride themselves in having no formula and charting new territory for episodic television. People of Earth could be very good company for these shows if it continues to stick the landing and shoots for empathy rather than cheap laughs.
Maybe Ozzie will get that Pulitzer yet…or maybe something even better.
People of Earth premieres on TBS on October 31st at 9pm