The Aliens: Episode 1
It’s a question that TV, books and films have been asking for years now: What would happen if aliens came to Earth? In E4’s new dystopian dramedy, the answer is an unexpected one. The Aliens is a British kitchen-sink drama on acid. Set against the social and political backdrop of injustice and inequality in a divided world, aliens, said to have crash-landed on Earth, live in a gated ghetto known as ‘Troy’ and are separated from human civilization by a large wall. These aliens are physically identical to humans and, so far, the only real distinction between them and the human race is that the genetic composition of alien hair makes it smoke-able as a hallucinogenic drug. The series’ protagonist, Lewis, is a border control officer whose job it is to ensure all aliens are back in Troy before sundown. Unsurprisingly, as an officer whose profession is built on discrimination, Lewis hates aliens. It is obviously a concern for him, therefore, when he finds out that he is in fact half-alien. As domestic situations force him to venture into Troy, drama naturally ensues. But is the drama too light-hearted? The Aliens is a drama-comedy with themes of inequality, injustice and discrimination as fictional plot devices. But it must be remembered that in our modern world, these themes actually exist. In fact, with characters like Donald Trump in the American presidential race who has based much of his political manifesto around the deportation of races other than his own, some of the themes in The Aliens feel all too real to be treated so flippantly.
In episode one of The Aliens, Lewis (Michael Socha) is blackmailed by the aliens into illegally entering Troy to deliver £3000 to a gang of drug dealers known as ‘The Silence Crew’. Because Lewis’ sister was responsible for losing the money that the gang were owed in exchange for the hallucinogenic hair, she is taken hostage under the agreement that she will only be released when an exchanged of money is made. Along the way, Lewis recruits a clumsy but friendly alien (Jim Howick) to help with the rescue operation; who later develops a humorous, romantic interest in Lewis. It becomes clear that one of the aliens holding Lewis’ sister hostage is the alien that Lewis has been watching online in an erotic broadcast. As his feelings for this alien further, he confesses to her that he is also of alien descent. She uses this knowledge of his family history against him, as a reason to continue to blackmail him in the next episode.
Jim Howick’s character is brilliant. Having enjoyed his performance in the recent BBC Two drama Stag, it was hard not to appreciate the humour Howick brought to a somewhat drab dystopia. He is by far the most likeable in this series and he definitely makes the whole human/alien divide more upsetting. Another character that was particularly enjoyable to watch was Ashley Waters’. Ashley Waters is an actor I’ve loved for a long time. In Top Boy, he gave what is, in my opinion, one of the best British performances in a drama of its kind; and in the recent BBC drama Cuffs, he impressed even further. The same goes for The Aliens. Waters is funny, threatening and entertaining which makes me question why the writers chose to kill him off in the first episode.
Tonight, Happy Valley on BBC One and The Aliens clashed, both fighting for viewers in that slot. I chose to watch the former. So, perhaps that says something about my taste in TV. I’d much prefer to watch a crime drama than a dystopian sci-fi comedy, and maybe that’s why The Aliens didn’t appeal to me as much as I’m sure it did to some. And although I can see the entertainment value in such a series, and I did appreciate much of the comedy and political commentary, I do feel like The Aliens missed the mark slightly. If the political and social aspects of the drama were given more prominence (as they were advertised to have in much of the show’s publicity), it would make for a better drama. Who knows, this could change later in the series, but for now, The Aliens just wasn’t for me.
The Aliens continues on E4 next Tuesday (15/03/16) at 9pm.