Down the Ballot

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Go Screen Yourself: 3rd Rock from the Sun Season 1

3rd Rock from the Sun Season 1 DVD cover
This science fiction show takes place on Earth, in the fictional Ohio town of Rutherford. Extraterrestrials take the form of human beings in attempt to better understand human culture.  Aliens invade a small town in the middle of nowhere part of Ohio? Only hilarity can ensue from this odd ball comedy. The show ran on television from 1996-2001, making it another one of those fantastic science fiction shows from the 1990s. 3rd Rock from the Sun had its strengths and weaknesses. One weakness was the lack of more traditional sci-fi trappings.

Sure it wasn't heavy in the blinking lights, grand special effects or inane technobabble department that so often accompanies a sci-fi television show, but that's ok; sometimes you just need a goofy premise to make something work. Where 3rd Rock lacked in traditional elements it more than made up for in humor. The alien family at the center of this show were the Solomons (Dick, Harry, Sally and Tommy). Each week viewers would tune to see what mishaps would occur because of their lack of understanding Earth customs and how they constantly try to keep their real identities secret. This proved to be one of the great strengths. The casting was immensely important to the success of the show.

Dick, played by John Lithgow, was the High Commander in charge of the mission. He went to work for the local university as a physics professor. Sally, played by Kristen Johnson was the security officer and took on the role of Dick's attractive sister who mostly stayed at home and kept an eye on Harry played by French Stewart who was sort of the alien in charge of communicating with 'The Big Giant Head' (the boss of them all back on homeworld). Then there was Tommy played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Tommy was the oldest alien stuck in the youngest human body which made for some great jokes throughout the season. With most ensemble casts the supporting players added a great life to the show. Seinfeld's Wayne Knight, SNL alum Jane Curtain, and several others rounded out a great cast. The chemistry between Curtain and Lithgow was fantastic. Following their insane relationship always left you wondering each season if they would  make it.

One of my favorite episodes from the first season is number three and is called Dick's First Birthday. Where Dick has his first birthday and realizes he is getting old. A scene towards the beginning has the group sitting on the roof and Tommy complaining about his health class. He tells them he is learning about human anatomy. The crew exclaims "YOU HAVE AN OWNERS MANUAL!".

Most seasons ended with some sort of announcement from the Big Giant Head, played by William Shatner. In several episodes Shatner actually shows up as the Big Giant Head. The conflict around these season cliffhangers usually involved the Big Giant Head being troubled by their lack of progress. One or two seasons of this may have been ok, but to end every season on this premise started to get old quick.

If you like goofy, silly, witty humor you will enjoy 3rd Rock from the Sun. The show had a good following and lasted another five seasons. The first season of 20 episodes garnered the best ratings for the show and every concept was new and fresh. You can find all six seasons on Netflix. All six have also been released on DVD.

Here's an intro sequence from early on in the show. Happy viewing!
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