The concept of alien abduction has been an endless source of fascination. It was the premise for the pilot episode of South Park, and the second segment in the first “Treehouse Of Horror” episode of The Simpsons. Even on Futurama, where the existence of aliens is a known fact, we still see Philip J. Fry be abducted so that his “human horn” can be harvested. But while the concept of alien abduction has been examined time and time again, most media tends to focus on the act itself, and not the aftermath. What would a person’s life be like after their experience, particularly in a world that is generally skeptical of the existence of intelligent life on other planets? Surely, that would be lonely, and surely anyone in that position would seek out those who had gone through similar experiences, right?
That’s the idea behind StarCrossed, the alien abduction support group that acts as the center of People Of Earth. It’s an AA-style group in the small town of Beacon, New York, where “experiencers” (do NOT call them “abductees”) discuss both their encounters and their feelings about the situation. A journalist named Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) descends upon the group for a human interest piece, and quickly finds them to be a group of delusional oddballs. Even to the viewer, who knows this is all building to something, it’s hard not to laugh off the members of StarCrossed, as they argue about meeting aliens that were “reptilians” or creatures that bear a stronger resemblance to Ryan Gosling.
Sure enough, Ozzie files his story and wants nothing more to do with these people, but his boss, Jonathan (Michael Cassidy) wants him to go a little more in-depth, and he begrudgingly agrees. While this happens, we see that Ozzie continues to have hallucinations recalling a recent incident where he hit a deer. After telling this to StarCrossed member Gerry Johnson (Luka Jones), it gets shared with the group, who are now entirely convinced that he is also an “experiencer” and the deer story is merely a false memory placed in his brain to suppress the truth. Ozzie is naturally skeptical of this at first, but after his memories are brought into the light, he wonders if it might be true, and makes the snap decision to stay in Beacon.
Throughout the pilot, the viewer is essentially placed in Ozzie’s shoes. We initially see the Star Crossed members as ridiculous at best and dangerous at worst, but their humanity gradually reveals itself. Likewise, we are just as confused and disoriented as Ozzie is when he has his flashbacks to the deer incident, which is later revealed to be his abduction. He becomes an easy main character to empathize with because the audience is essentially going through the same experience as him.
At the end of the pilot, the audience is given two more surprises. First, we learn that Gerry, despite being the most alien-obsessed member of the group is not actually an experiencer. Rather, he just fervently believes in the existence of aliens, and claims to be one for access to the group. This is a surprisingly emotional moment, as it’s hard not to sympathize with him when he tells this to Ozzie. The second — and far more surprising — twist, is that Jonathan is actually an alien himself. One of the dreaded reptilians, in fact. This begs the question of why he would encourage Ozzie to go back to the story. Wouldn’t be concerned about how much he’ll find out, or is that just part of the greater plan? In either event, the pilot ends on a strong note, as it becomes quite obvious that StarCrossed will be giving us many revelations throughout its first season.
In the second episode, Ozzie is forced to pick a sponsor. Again mirroring AA, every group member needs someone they can lean on when they just need someone to talk to. Unfortunately for Ozzie, he has yet to meet a single group member who he doesn’t write off as “crazy” in his notebook. Compounding his problem is that Gina (Ana Gasteyer), the leader of the group insists that he make his decision by the end of the night.
As a result, Ozzie spends the episode attempting to establish a closer connection to the other group members. We see him have a brief conversation with Yvonne Watson (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who confides that until her own experience, she thought only white people ever talked about alien abductions While it is not mentioned directly, there seems to be an unspoken understanding that as the only two black members of StarCrossed, Ozzie and Yvonne have a natural connection, which could be an interesting dynamic for the show to explore going forward.
The meat of ”The Sponsor,” however, focuses on the group meeting, where Ozzie attempts to get the group members to talk about their experiences in the hopes of finding similarities in the encounters that might help them “solve” the mystery of who the aliens are and what they want. Gina dissuades the group from doing this, stressing that the group should just be for talking about feelings, but everyone else goes along with Ozzie. The meeting ends up focusing on the two encounters experienced between by Kelly (Alice Wetterlund), and Chelsea (Tracee Chimo), who each had extremely similar encounters, though Chelsea’s was sexual while Kelly’s was not (this briefly leads to a tete-a-tete between the two). The focus eventually becomes figuring out whether or not Kelly and Chelsea were in fact met by the same alien, making it an intergalactic reversed-gender version of R. Kelly and Usher’s “Same Girl.”
People Of Earth is nominally a comedy, and to be sure, there are laughs scattered throughout the first two episodes, mostly stemming from the general absurdities of the characters and the experiences they are describing. That being said, the show has roughly equal elements of mystery and drama. By the time the second episode ends, the jokes can’t help but feel secondary. The audience wants to learn more about these characters both for the purpose of empathizing with them, and attempting to figure what they’re up to.
Initially, it looks like StarCrossed will have to find a new place to meet, after Father Doug (Oscar Nunez) finds out about the group’s dealing with alien matters, and wonders if it’s the sort of thing he wants to have in his church. His objections are understandable, but he relents after having a consolation with Chelsea, who reveals that her home life is miserable due to her emotionally distant husband, who is either too preoccupied with work to pay attention to her, or possibly having an affair. Father Doug empathizes with Chelsea here, and so does the audience. Up to this point, she had easily been the least likable member of the group, appearing defensive and judgmental. By revealing her secret misery, we understand why Chelsea might not be the easiest person to get along with. Likewise, Father Doug finds a reason to allow StarCrossed to stay: crazy or not, these are people who have been through painful experiences and are looking for answers. Based on that, he sees it as a duty to allow them to remain.
Meanwhile, Ozzie’s search for a sponsor continues to be a struggle. Gerry is by far the most enthusiast applicant for the position, going so far as to break in to an impound lot to retrieve Ozzie’s car for him (the guy he knew wasn’t there). He ultimately gets tazed and arrested by a cop played by H. Jon Benjamin, who hopefully will appear more in the series. After a short-but-friendly conversation with Kelly, who found his notebook, and was flattered that he left a question mark next to her name after declaring her crazy, Ozzie settles on her as his sponsor. This happens a bit too quickly, as Ozzie hasn’t really interacted with her that much before this, but he was given little time to make a decision, and Kelly does seem like one of the more affable members of the group, so from that angle, his decision makes sense.
“The Sponsor” ends with yet another surprise (I’m guessing this will happen a lot), when Gina, just after finding out that Father Doug is allowing the group to stay, runs over someone, and merely drives away, betraying the “empathy” bumper sticker on her car. Then, we find out that the person she ran over was actually yet another alien. At this point, Gina’s motivations are pretty questionable; we know that she doesn’t want the group to seek definitive answers about their abductors, and her actions here further call her seemingly noble motives into question. Over the course of this season, we’ll likely find out if Gina is a hero, a villain, or something in between. For now, she’s emerged as the show’s biggest question mark.
People Of Earth leaves a strong impression after its first two episodes. The show has a solid amount of humor, but ultimately, comedy is a background tool for a show that deals with topics like trauma, empathy, and trust. If this show has a serious problem, it’s that it might be trying to do too much in the span of a half hour, as the show often has several plotlines going at once. Still, it’s hard to fault a show for its ambition, and so far, People Of Earth has done a fine job of giving viewers reasons to be invested for the long haul.
- In the first meeting of StarCrossed, we find out that the reason why they don’t use the term ”abductee” is that they consider it a form of “slut-shaming,” which causes Ozzie to roll his eyes. At first, it kind of seems like the show might be mocking PC/safe space culture, but as it goes along, we find that the group has reasons for being as insulated as they are, which could be a critique of people who write off the PC college crowd without considering their motivations.
- Other StarCrossed members include Richard (Brian Huskey), who believes he runs a high-powered tech company when he really just makes those things you put on the end of internet cables, Margaret (Nancy Lenehan), a spunky older woman who vastly overestimates her drawing abilities, and Ennis (Daniel Stewart Sherman), a farmer who makes excellent use of pig feces.
- The aliens include Don The White, Ken The Grey, and Jeff The Reptilian (Bjorn Gustaffson, Ken Hall, Drew Nelson). They argue almost as much as the StarCrossed members do, and one might imagine that despite their lofty goals, their incompetence, and unwillingness to get along may derail their plan.
- “It was Lyle, the guitar teacher wasn’t it? I made one comment about Santana, and ever since, he’s been all persnicketty.”