Review: ‘Resident Alien’ Explores Family Dynamics in “Family Day”

The last episode (“Radio Harry”) was an exploration of family, and this one continues the theme. It starts with Harry (Alan Tudyk) contemplating whether to call the phone number he received by radio transmission from an apparent alien relative in New York. He’s afraid to, though, because he worries he’s become too human. While he’s trying to figure out what to do, his 16-year-old punk troublemaker daughter Liza (Taylor Blackwell) shows up in town having run away from troublemaker camp. She immediately steals a bicycle. In case you didn’t get it, she’s a troublemaker.

Harry doesn’t remember Liza because he’s not really Harry but the alien who murdered Harry. Which makes the reunion a little awkward. “You’re different. Like head injury different,” Liza observes. But ultimately Harry is right when he says, “I can be a good father. I have seen a lot of television.”

As that call out to sitcoms past indicates, the story beats here are pretty obvious. Dopey cranky father and cool cranky teen annoy each other and/or contemplate murdering each other with gluten. Then they go to family day together and pelt neurotic mayor Ben (Levi Fiehler) with water balloons, and laugh together inappropriately at Ben’s inappropriate children’s play which disturbingly depicts the horrific deaths of the 59 heroic minors who sacrificed their lives for another trapped minor (who also died.)

Resident Alien
Courtesy of Syfy

In short, Harry the alien weirdo turns out to be a significantly better father than dead Harry the typical wealthy person, and perhaps a better parent than his ex-wife who ran away to Italy leaving Liza behind. The daughter hugs her dad and gets on the bus, and Harry now feels ready to go meet the alien New Yorker.

If the feel-good family arc is familiar, though, the show manages to again add some interesting nuance with the subplots. The first of these is a rift created when D’Arcy (Alice Wetterlund) finds out that Asta (Sara Tomko) spent the night on the couch of her ex, Jimmy (Ben Cotton). D’Arcy’s upset that Asta turned to an abusive individual for comfort rather than to her best friend. Asta, for her part, is upset that D’Arcy is spending so much time with the daughter Asta had to give up—and she’s also worried about D’Arcy’s fairly out of control drinking problem.

The two ultimately (and predictably!) reconcile. They burn Asta’s old football shirt, a remnant of her (bad old) days with Jimmy, and declare their love for each other. The love is platonic; Resident Alien doesn’t have much in the way of queer representation, unfortunately. Still, Asta and D’Arcy are very much chosen family, and their relationship reminds you that Harry and Liza, while nominally related, are really chosen family too. Harry’s decided to treat Liza as his child, even though he’s not really her dad or even human. It suggests that every family that matters is chosen. Whether or not you’re actually related to someone, you have to decide whether to care about them.

That’s a thread that winds its way through the rest of the episode. Harry steals a dog from Sahar (Gracelyn Awad Rinke) in order to force her to return his superpowered alien silver ball, and also because he thinks his daughter will want a dog. Max (Judah Prehn), is gleeful because it’s not really Sahar’s dog; she’s just walking it, it’s not family, who cares? But Sahar says she has to get the dog back anyway, because it’s her responsibility—she’s agreed to treat it like family. (Liza does not want a dog. It pees on Harry’s leg. After that, it’s unclear what happens to it, though I’m sure it ends up well—this isn’t that kind of show. Oh, right, and off to the side, the silver ball has gone missing.)

The last subplot involves Sheriff Mike (Corey Reynolds). The episode opens with a flashback to the death of Mike’s partner in DC five years ago. He’s still grieving and guilty and touchy. He now lives with his father, Lewis (Alvin Sanders), who is ailing. At a diner, Lewis tells Mike that his biopsy was negative—which surprises Mike, who can’t remember taking his dad for the biopsy. That’s because Harry erased his memory of that day to stop him from figuring out that human Harry murdered the town doctor.

resident alien alan tudyk family day 1
Courtesy of Syfy

Deputy Liv (Elizabeth Bowen) also had her memory erased, and thinks (thanks to a childhood UFO encounter) that it may have been aliens. She convinces Mike to check with Harry to see what is wrong with them. Mike confesses to Harry that his partner’s death still haunts him, and that he worries it’s harmed his relationship with his father. So Harry, to protect himself, gives Mike a memory to put in the day he erased. It’s of Mike and his dad together happily fishing.

Harry insists, in a voice-over, that his motives are selfish. “If that memory gave him a good day that was just a coincidence,” he says. Harry may be lying to himself or us; he often is more thoughtful than he’s willing to admit. But the show is certainly telling us that the memory is no coincidence; this is an episode about family reconciliation after all. Mike’s happy day is a deliberate, touching conclusion. And that conclusion, like the rest of the episode, is fiction. Family is invented or created; it’s a kind of dream.  Its fragility, the show suggests, is part of what makes it precious.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.