“Don’t Get Weird, OK?” is the ostensible subtitle for “People of Earth,” but thankfully the show itself ignores that message. Created by David Jenkins, with Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels serving as executive producers, this sweet scripted comedy represents another charming unique voice within TBS’s comedy line-up — one that gets a little bit otherworldly.
Premiering Halloween night, the series focuses on Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac), a journalist doing a story on a support group for alien abductees (well, don’t call them abductees — they prefer the term “experiencers”). While Ozzie’s initial impression of them is easily filed under the term “crazypants,” his perception shifts after a possible encounter of his own, which leads him to suspect that aliens might actually be real, and that they might have big plans for our small humble planet.
It’s a set-up that leads to one of the most humanist shows I’ve seen in a while, truly spotlighting the unique energy of its ensemble in a way that suggests real love is involved. “People of Earth” likes its characters, quirks and all, and the cast features a wonderful ensemble of oddballs that you should recognize from their previous supporting work, such as Alice Wetterlund (who kicked a lot of ass on “Silicon Valley”), Tracee Chimo (an incredibly versatile performer from “Orange is the New Black” to “High Maintenance”) and Brian Huskey (a memorable presence from “Preacher” to “Veep”).
And those are just the people whose names you may not know! Ana Gasteyer brings a slightly bitter vulnerability to the role of group leader Gina, while Wyatt Cenac makes for a compelling lead, with lots of depth to be found beneath his deadpan demeanor. It’s a cast that works well together thanks in part to their overall quirkiness. Conventional players need not apply.
Ozzie’s entrance into this new world plays a bit rushed (perhaps due in part to strict cable runtimes). But in the first four episodes, we see the individuals grow in definition and scope, while also watching the narrative move forward. “People of Earth” isn’t a gut-buster when it comes to its jokes, but the subtle nature of its humor plays naturally. And there’s significantly more plot than you might expect to encounter in a show like this, which — as you may have guessed — doesn’t reject the possibility of alien encounters being real.
One direct inspiration for “People of Earth” — or at the very least, one direct correlleary — might be “The X-Files.” But not the show as a whole, but the third season episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” arguably one of the cult classic’s greatest installments of all time. Written by Darin Morgan, the episode is a post-modern examination of the sort of folks who get obsessed with abduction stories, in part because they’re desperately seeking some sort of confirmation that they themselves are worthy of extraterrestrial attention.
Morgan told some incredibly human stories as an “X-Files” writer, along the way proving that extraterrestrial narratives offer a unique insight into the human condition. And that is echoed in “People of Earth,” which makes this an explicit part of its message. The fact that the troubled folks that group together for companionship and comfort are also seeking validation cannot be undersold, especially given how all of them do not hesitate to report that their abductors told them “You… Are… Special…”
We’re all flailing around on this planet, knowing our time is finite. But if you can’t put your faith in religion or sports, the idea that there’s life beyond this rock, and that it might even find us worthy of study, is understandably a bit of a lifesaver. The people of “People of Earth” may stand out as a bit absurd, but their search for greater meaning is very understandable — and entirely human.
“People of Earth” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on TBS.