PEOPLE OF EARTH Review: “Always a Day Away”

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Sophomore TBS alien abduction comedy PEOPLE OF EARTH frustratingly delivered something of a place-holder episode this week, a moment when we could really see the gears turning as director Jennifer Celotta and author Charla Lauriston kept things a bit more frustratingly static than they needed to be. Instead of moving swiftly on to new frontiers, “Always a Day Away” continued to tease the inevitable encounter between Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac), our journalist hero who has transitioned from working at a multimedia conglomerate to a gig at a small-town paper in Beacon, New York, to pursue the truth behind his alien abduction, and Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy), his alien abductor — who in human form masqueraded as his boss at both the conglomerate and subsequently the paper, until he decided to go rogue. Walsh has been on the run with his robot assistant Nancy (Debra McCabe) all season. Their meeting, which I had expected to be an unnecessary story moment when it got dashed again last week, has become the naked focal point of this entire season. Everything else in the story bends and twists around this one core moment, sublimating the fun story moments that do happen for one that has yet to transpire.

Of course, there is a big reveal coming whenever Walsh and Ozzie do finally get their sit-down. And I’m sure series creator David Jenkins and executive producers Greg Daniels and Conan O’Brien would like to draw the build-up to that moment out for as long as they can. But suddenly it feels like the other elements in the world of StarCrossed, the alien encounters group with which Ozzie has chosen to align himself, are all moving in obvious service of this single scene. But the scene is just going to be a plot beat, ultimately — a big revelation that possibly unveils the stakes of an impending alien invasion. There will be plenty of story to come after that moment. Or perhaps Walsh and Ozzie could arrange to meet a few times, in a pupil/mentor-type series of teaching moments. I don’t think investing so much anticipatory energy in the story into this one, five-minute scene — one that at the end of the day is just going to be teasing something else — serves the story particularly well. Let’s get it over with and get back to the heart of the show: the characters and their deepening relationships.

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The proceedings begin this week with a lame team-building exercise between Don the White (Bjorn Gustafsson) and Jeff the Grey (Ken Hall), the bickering extraterrestrial work colleagues responsible for abducting the entire population of StarCrossed. Their new supervisor, a cube named Eric (Peter Serafinowicz) who harbors a particular disdain for Jeff, instructs his new charge to clean a storage room. This is a test — the room contains the corpse of Kurt the Reptilian (Drew Nelson), who had traveled to Beacon from the ship in the middle of last season to clean up Jonathan Walsh’s mess. Kurt was accidentally run over by Gina (Ana Gasteyer), the spiritual leader of StarCrossed, and has been presumed dead ever since. Jeff harbored a secret crush on Kurt, unbeknownst to the deceased.

Jonathan Walsh has been battling a crippling addiction to hush puppies and fast food (as induced by an extended stay with Beacon’s resident human-alien rendezvous point, Officer Glimmer) and increased paranoia about his alien former co-workers searching for him. He calls Ozzie, and they agree to reschedule their meeting. But first, Ozzie must shake the FBI agent, Alex Foster (Nasim Pedrad), who has been tailing him in the hopes of finding Walsh. Walsh, when he ex-communicated himself from his alien cohorts, was suddenly wanted for a series of shady white-collar crimes, and so he has become a fugitive from both human and alien enforcement agencies.

Father Doug (Oscar Nunez) approaches his superior, Bishop McNally, about leaving the church to pursue an adult romantic relationship with StarCrossed abductee Chelsea (Tracee Chimo). To Doug’s surprise, McNally hastily implores that he stay on, and they revisit his decision in.. 6-8 months. Of course, in real life Doug could just quit. But this is a TV show, and we need to keep spinning our wheels a bit in the middle of this second season apparently, so Doug forlornly agrees to linger.

As Jeff waxes nostalgic about Kurt’s passing, he moves in for a final, farewell smooch — but suddenly, in the episode’s funniest moment, Kurt’s eyes pop open as he yells “CAR!” Kurt has been alive this whole time! As they reconnect, Eric spies on their conversation, stewing while Jeff takes pot shots at his leadership approach.

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Ozzie elects to rope Gina in to abetting him in his scheme to shake Agent Foster. It’s the eve of Gina’s birthday, so she and the group conspire to bring Foster to a karaoke bar, get her good and imbibed, and allow Ozzie to slip away for this big meeting. Here, finally, we get some significant character progress. Don the White, who dated Kelly (Alice Wetterlund) before she discovered he had lied to her about having a dying mother in Iceland, arrives at the bar to tell Kelly the truth. Alex Foster, meanwhile, loves karaoke.

Specifically, she loves the song “Tomorrow” from Annie — because she is an orphan, with vague sense memory of Don being present during her birth. Triggered by the sight of Don talking to Kelly, Alex Foster slugs down some liquid courage and takes the stage. This is Ozzie’s window!

In the parking lot, fellow StarCrossed “experiencers” Yvonne (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Gerry (Luka Jones) give Ozzie a care package as a farewell. It includes chocolates, which he accepts readily, and a gun, which he refuses (a sign that he trusts Walsh).

As a tearful Alex Foster wraps up her passionate performance, she discovers that Ozzie has escaped to meet Walsh. The group has betrayed her. From their perspective, of course, it had to be done. They need to know whatever Jonathan Walsh has to tell Ozzie, and Jonathan Walsh has only agreed to meet with Ozzie on the condition that they meet alone. Alex’s future at the FBI suddenly looks less than secure.

Here’s hoping that next week, Ozzie and Jonathan Walsh actually do, finally, have that sit-down, and we can figure out just how connected Alex Foster is to the people of StarCrossed and their alien abductors, after all.

Season 2, Episode 4 (S02E04)
People of Earth airs Mondays at 10:30PM on TBS

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Alex scribbles about movies, TV and basketball all across the great wide web.
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