Episode Review: The Aliens S1E1 “Pilot”

The Aliens is a new science fiction series airing on E4 in England. It stars Michael Socha, Michaela Coel, Michael Smiley, and Jim Howick. About forty years ago, aliens crashed into the Irish Sea. Since then, they’ve been boarded up in a slum city called Troy. Humans treat them as a subspecies, while the aliens sell their hair to humans to be smoked as a recreational drug. The story revolves around Lewis (Mr. Socha) who is a border guard at Troy. He discovers he’s half human, half alien in a new genetic leap between species.

I’m going to do this review a bit differently than I normally approach a show. I’m going to discuss characters that stood out to me, the pros, the cons, and my overall thoughts of the show.

This review contains spoilers for the episode!

Lewis

LewisThe introduction to Lewis sealed everything we needed for this man. He’s clever but missing subtly accidentally freaking out some school children. He’s not afraid to be brash and a bit of a speciesist. That’s because his job is important to him. Where the other border officers begrudgingly did their work, Lewis shined excited to be there. He’s also a bit of a dork which is important to lay out early. It allows Lewis to doubt himself especially later in the plot when he’s massively forced out of his comfort zone.

When he discovers he’s half alien, it wasn’t a gentle paradigm shift. It was a soul crushing destruction of what little confidence he had left. Mr Socha handled the reveal masterfully bringing in the physicality he often has in his roles. We see that Lewis is a good man. He puts aside his own problems to save his sister who he doesn’t even like. His morals are strong even if his head clouds his judgement.

The only negative response I had to Lewis was his treatment towards Dominic (Mr. Howick). Yes, we had the set up early on that Lewis is a speciesist, but Dominic is his only help. Most people Lewis interacts with at work and in his family are terrible. Dominic immediately accepts Lewis for who he is and risks his life to save Holly, Lewis’ sister. Though, this could easily be a set up to help Lewis change for the better and accept his alien half. If we go six episodes and Lewis still treats Dominic as a subspecies, it will be a massive writing flaw.

I also hope we get more about Lewis’ mother. From the promo for next week, it looks like we’re heading off to find his dad. Hopefully, we’ll get more background on the mom.

LilyHot

LillyHotIs that her name? Is that what we’re calling the character? That’s all we got in the show, so we’re going with that.

This is my first time watching Michaela Coel, and I think she did well with what was given to her in the Pilot. Miss Coel brings an air of mystery to the role as a wild card character. The moment LilyHot is on screen, you don’t know where exactly she’s going to go. In a male heavy cast, the female lead needs to own her place in the show. She is clearly the smartest person in the room from the get go easily seeing through Lewis’ fake raid.

That’s where it ends for LilyHot. It’s no fault of Miss Coel. The writing left me wanting more about the character. I understand they were setting up Lewis’ story in a crammed and fast pace Pilot. What ended up happening is Lily’s character came off as more of a supporting role than a lead. I wish there was another scene or two of Lewis and Lily chatting through the porn site to set up their relationship. I don’t see any reason why Lewis should be in love with this woman other than being a beautiful face (and goodness Miss Coel is gorgeous!).

We don’t know anything about her other than she was playing one gang by working for another. I hope in future episodes we get more to Lily’s story. What are her motives? How did she fall into this life? How does she view humans? What exactly does she hope to gain in the long scheme of things?

Dominic

DomincDominic is a ray of sunshine that deserves all the happy things in life.

When you have a show that’s wrapped heavily in allegories about the politics of real world issues like how to handle Syrian refugees, racism, celebrities running for president (looking at you, Trump), it made Dominic so important in the narrative. He brought comedy to what easily could be a straight drama. Positive characters allow the audience to relax and process the heavier material. He’s hilarious, and Mr. Howick didn’t miss any beats in delivering his jokes.

Like Lily, I want more about Dominic. He seems more comfortable around policemen who treat him like trash than his own people. Is there something in Troy that pushes him away? What’s missing is a backstory. Other aliens go out to work in the human world, while he stays near the border. Part of me feels he’s not as clueless as he acts. Though, I wouldn’t mind if he stayed the optimist and friendly character we met. Also as I mentioned above, I hope there is more of a positive development between Dominic and Lewis.

Dominic was the clear MVP of the episode and quickly became my favorite. Mr. Howick has truly given life to a remarkably special character.

Pros

The Intro Music: “Alive and Amplified” by The Mooney Suzuki is one of my favorite songs. I cheered the moment it started playing. I can’t listen to that song when I drive, because I will speed.

The Political Commentary: I don’t live in Europe, so my knowledge of the Syrian Refugee Crisis is what we get on CNN or our local news. That said, The Aliens’ narrative spans multiple worldwide issues. I can see the commentary about police brutality as the Black Lives Matter movement is a hot topic issue in the States. The wall that surrounds Troy could also be seen as an example of what would happen if Donald Trump is elected president (America, no. Please, don’t do it!). Already, the Wikipedia page for The Aliens has pointed this out:

wikiaIt makes the show contemporary, while the themes lay down the building blocks of a series that could stand the test of time.

In America: Because of the political commentary, I think this show would easily do well in America. Sadly if a show comes from the UK, it usually gets stuck on BBC America. It could get put on the Syfy channel, but after they Americanized Being Human, I wouldn’t want it there. The other downside is The Aliens would more than likely be censored. God forbid we say “Fuck!” on a television show!

Holly: I really like Holly in the way that I love to hate her. She’s that crappy friend that will call you and take and take and take, but the moment you need something, she’s nowhere to be found. Though in a way, I can relate to her. I have three sisters and a brother. At some point, we all felt like our parents favored the others. My oldest sister thought I got it easy. I feel like my mom babies her too much. Minus the drugs and shitty husband, Holly is a character that everyone can see themselves in if they have siblings.

Cons

3000This Needs More than Six Episodes: If the remaining five episodes are going to be structured in the same way, they’re going to hit a massive problem in developing the supporting cast and pacing. The first fives minutes is an information dump. While it was handled in a fun and energetic way because Mr. Socha is crazy talented, it could have been spread out slowly as part of the world building process. The quick pace will hurt the minor characters. I understand that this is Lewis’ story, but he’ll need the support of Dominic and Lily to move forward. We know nothing about Lily. Dominic is holding his place as comedic relief. The pace of the narrative is so fast and packed it leaves little to no chance for us to get more about them. Look at the character of Christophe (Ashley Walters). He was a one dimensional antagonist. He was pretty much a mustache twirling villain with a shiv. There wasn’t enough time to give depth to this character or anyone outside of Lewis.

Background for the Aliens and Troy: On Channel 4’s website, there are a series of videos giving background to how the aliens came to Earth, Troy, and what looks like a resistance movement. I live in America. I don’t have access to watch these videos. I came into the show with only the base premise. That being said, a casual viewer won’t go out of their way to see those videos. They came in cold like me. We don’t know the social structure of Troy and how it relates to the human world. Is this the only place that has aliens? Are there more out there in other countries? I would have loved to see more of that worked into the Pilot. I hope it’s explored in the rest of the series.

Cut It Out: There were some scenes that were superfluous especially with the lack of background we got for plot and characters. I don’t believe we needed the club scene in Troy. It introduced Fabian, but he didn’t do anything other than strut by Lewis! That five minute chunk of the episode could have been used in other ways.

Final Thoughts

My negative nitpicking aside, The Aliens had a strong Pilot. Lewis carried the emotional side of the episode, while Dominic kept it fun. I’m looking forward to digging into LilyHot if they give her a chance to grow. The political turmoil gives the show depth. I’m hoping in the final five episodes, we’ll get more world building. The setting could easily be a character of it’s own dictating the direction of the main three. Overall, you’ll see me tuning in next week.

I gave The Aliens’ first episode 16 out of 20 sunny Dominic smiles.

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