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Alien Nation: Aliens in Los Angeles
I think perhaps I may have liked this show slightly better had I not watched season 1 of 'Due South" and read "Embassytown" in the middle of working myself through it. This is because the first does buddy cop/cop procedural better, and the latter does aliens better. Also, this series was a lot more impressive before "District 9" came out with essentially the same concept only done better. However, this does not mean that "Alien Nation" is without worth: quite the opposite, really.
The show is apparently a spin-off of a movie I've never seen, but that I would be willing to check out. Basically, about five years before the start of the show, an alien spaceship crashes in the Mojave Desert containing a crew of a couple thousand aliens known as the Tenctonese. These aliens, referred to as "Newcomers" were slaves being transported to a colony, who gladly decide to stay on Earth and restart their lives. The plot revolves around police detective Matt Sikes (Gary Graham) who has been partnered with the LAPD's first Newcomer police officer, George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint). Together, they deal with all the issues inherent in a new ethnic group emerging--hate crimes, Newcomer criminals, exploitation of Newcomers, and other such things. We also get to meet George's family, wife Susan (Michelle Scarabelli), son Buck (Sean Six), and daughter Emily (Lauren Woodland), as well as Sikes' Newcomer neighbor Cathy Frankel (Terri Treas), who Sikes develops feelings for.
The breadth of the issues Sikes and Francisco deal with is quite impressive. As I said earlier, their crimes, while almost always dealing with Newcomer issues, are remarkably broad, dealing with everything from stolen Newcomer artifacts to brainwashed Newcomer CIA agents to murdered Newcomer priests. Two repeated foes that the two encounter are the Overseers, the slavemasters who were running the ship before it crashed and who have blended in with the general Newcomer population, and the Purists, human racists who want the Newcomers to be expelled from the planet or to have their rights denied.
While both the Purists and the Overseers are interesting villains in concept, there are a few problems with them both. First of all, whereas normal human and Newcomer criminals run the gamut from complete monsters to somewhat sympathetic anti-villains, Overseers are ALWAYS your stereotypical mustache-twirling villiains, smug assholes who view the enslavement of their peers as their divine right. This is not helped by the fact that who exactly the Overseers are is very ambiguous: they seem to be a caste of Newcomers who have deliberately cut themselves off from the intimacy that Newcomers feel for one another, but we never learn anything about them from before the ship (since most Newcomers were born on the ship, this is understandable, but Newcomers also seem to have a fine grasp on the culture of their home planet without having ever set foot there, so it just seems odd). As for the Purists, they just seem unfocused: what kind of people they are and what they want seems to vary from episode to episode. While this is somewhat realistic (trying to find two racist groups with the exact same ideology would be quite difficult), it also makes them hard to grasp.
Sikes and Francisco are both well-done characters. It is interesting to see Sikes' character arc as he starts as someone who is casually racist toward "spongeheads," but who over the course of the the show (and being exposed to Tenctonese culture by George and his family) becomes more culturally aware. Of course there are the buddy cop cliches of sloppy cowboy cop (Sikes) versus organized by the book cop (Francisco ), but a few episodes give interesting twists on it, for instance cases when a case hits one of George's beserk buttons and Sikes has to restrain his more violent impulses.
Francisco and his family are also an interesting case. While it sometimes feels like they have been too Americanized for living in the country five years (speaking English and referring to each other by the names given to them by the US government, for instance) I did like that their cultural background contributes subplots to the story, for instance conflicts between the sometimes aggressively Tenctonese Buck and his more assimilationist parents.
All in all, I liked this show, even though its aliens can seem a bit too Americanized at times. It is full of both interesting characters and interesting story ideas, and is definitely worth tracking down.