‘People of Earth’ on TBS Is ‘Parks and Recreation’ Meets ‘Men in Black’

Wyatt Cenac in People of Earth.

Wyatt Cenac in People of Earth. Jan Thijs/PBS

Most of the time when you think of a support group, you think of it as a gathering aimed at helping people who are suffering from some sort of physical or mental affliction. The idea is that the members of the group share similar thoughts and feelings and, probably most importantly, the group setting helps its individual participants feel that they’re not alone in their struggles.

This definition is certainly true for the members of the fictional support group StarCrossed, featured in the new comedy People of Earth. The difference here is that no one in this group suffers from a recognized ‘affliction’ – or do they? To clarify, StarCrossed is a support group for people who believe that they’ve been abducted by aliens.

Enter reporter Ozzie Graham, who simply sets out to write a piece about the group, but through a weird set of circumstances (how could there not be a weird set of circumstances here?) ends up as part of the group.

While Ozzie initially dismisses the “experiencers,” as the abductees prefer to call themselves, once he accepts his fate as a comrade to those in the group, he begins to learn more about his fellow experiencers, with surprising results.

What transpires isn’t a ‘ha ha funny’ comedy, but rather a humorous and interesting look at the many ways people try to hide from their true selves when some aspects of real life are just too messy or painful to fully embrace.

The series makes some noteworthy statements about the craziness of the world and what people are willing to put out there about themselves in exchange for acceptance, any kind of acceptance.

It’s telling that the aliens (and yes, the aliens are a large part of the narrative) say to each individual, “You are special.” Isn’t this really what everyone wants to hear? In this case, that seems to be the thing that appeals to the members of this group the most – that someone honestly thinks they’re above average and values them.

Another catchphrase used effectively is the line, “Don’t get weird, okay?” It’s a bit ironic in that this show actually thrives in its weirdness with some oft used space alien troupes, such as ‘white lights’ and ‘memory erasing’ along with wacky twists like a Segway-mounted desk, categories of aliens, and a mysteriously recurring herd of deer.

People of Earth is a high-concept sci-fi comedy with a subtle, but very human, sensibility. It’s a combination of Parks and Recreation, Men in Black and the new series, The Good Place.

The Parks and Rec association is no doubt due to the influence of Greg Daniels, a force behind both shows, while the Men in Black aspect is evident in the intermingling of the aliens and humans that here doesn’t seem so off the rails. One of the interesting elements of People of Earth is one that makes The Good Place shine as well; it’s serialized nature. This is a relativity new concept in comedies and it works well here.

But, having said this, unfortunately, early in the series, both the humor and the more serious themes explored in People of Earth feel just a bit too underdeveloped, as do the characters. This isn’t to say that with time all of these aspects couldn’t evolve into much more. This is a new ‘world’ after all and often a high-concept series such as this needs a little time to get everything in synch and on the right path. Given Daniels’ track record it seems extremely likely that this will happen.

At present, the series isn’t an ‘earth shattering’ comedy, but it’s funny enough, with a sufficient amount of humor and heart, to be enjoyable. If it’s a good laugh, at a joke or at life in general that you’re are looking for, you can certainly find it in People of Earth.

Who knows, maybe some individuals who are ‘out of this world’ will use this series as their own form of support group.

People of Earth airs Monday nights at 9/8c on TBS.

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