TBS’s PEOPLE OF EARTH kicks off its triumphant return, last night’s “New Beginnings,” with a quick recap of its inaugural season last year, wherein skeptical big-city journalist Ozzie Graham (The Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenac) eventually came around to the bizarre reality that the alien encounters group StarCrossed, in the fictitious Beacon, New York, might actually have encountered aliens — and that his frequent boss Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy) might number among the spacemen.
We jump in at the exact moment we left off: Jeff the Grey (Ken Hall), who had been struggling with a dead co-worker and an absentee one all of last season, was finally meeting his alien bosses as they initiated the next phase of their sinister Earth takeover plot. Jeff spread his arms wide as the doors to his ship slid open to a shaft of white light: “Welcome commanders! Everything is going according to — who the **** are you?”
So who the **** were they? Well, turns out, just some bureaucrats in the midst of a corporate takeover. A giant floating black cube, flanked by two helmeted figures draped all in black, moves into Jeff’s chamber and emits a green scanning beam across his corporeal form. This is Eric, his new supervisor. Eric the cube is now in charge, he explains, because Alpha Federation (whoever that is) has merged forces with Trinity Federation (whoever that is). Eric is very much a company stooge, prone to offering bland middle management affirmations unprompted, a la “Teamwork makes dream work!” Eric the cube can scan people’s faces/heads to read their innermost thoughts, a skill that comes in handy almost immediately with Jeff, who tries to cover for his very much dead coworker (run over by StarCrossed founder Gina last season) and his very much alive, very much missing coworker Don the White (Bjorn Gustafsson).
After meeting Eric and his guard corps., we return to Earth, four days after the end of season one. We quickly meet the latest addition to the People of Earth cast, Saturday Night Live alum Nasim Pedrad (who, by the way, does a killer Aziz Ansari impression — which no doubt convinced POE show producer Conan O’Brien to hire her this season). Pedrad plays FBI Special Agent Alex Foster, a great marksman (marks-woman?) who nevertheless has recently shot herself in the foot while in the line of duty. Despite this, Foster is charged with the task of investigating and locating Jonathan Walsh, the Reptilian alien hiding in plain sight on Earth as a millionaire media magnate. Walsh, having been excommunicated from his alien squad for refusing to harm intrepid reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac), has been framed by his former extraterrestrial cohorts for money-laundering and defrauding clients. Officer Glimmer (H. Jon Benjamin), secretly an alien familiar, interviews a visibly shaken Richard (Brian Husky), who is conveniently summarizing the climax of the last season, wherein Jonathan Walsh’s robot assistant Nancy (Debra McCabe), who at that point had been taken over by Jeff the Grey for illicit research purposes, exploded. Where are Jonathan Walsh and the remaining pieces of the Nancy bot now, you ask? Hiding out from the FBI and his former colleague Jeff with Officer Glimmer, and eating an endless supply of fried takeout, much to Walsh’s dietary chagrin.
The FBI and Jeff aren’t the only parties interested in Jonathan Walsh’s whereabouts. Ozzie, too, is searching for his former employer, calling him repeatedly to no avail. He has been holed up for days trying to connect the threads between Walsh, Beacon, and all his StarCrossed friends on a police-style bulletin board.
The shell-shocked Richard, meanwhile, is staying on fellowed StarCrossed “experiencer” Margaret (Nancy Lenahan)’s couch. Richard has a terrifying dream-within-a-dream (a moviemaking trick first employed by John Landis in An American Werewolf in London, which is still the best application of the technique) wherein first Officer Glimmer’s face explodes in the police interrogation room, then Richard awakens in bed, runs to the bathroom and washes his face, and glances up into the mirror just in time to see his own face explode in similar fashion… before waking up for a second, and final time, in the real world. Like a child after a nightmare, he cuddles up to the floor beneath Margaret’s bed.
Jeff’s AWOL alien colleague Don the White (Bjorn Gustaffson) and Don’s human girlfriend Kelly (Alice Wetterlund) — who has no idea Don is an alien — are in Iceland to visit what he claims is his dying mother. The notion of a dying mother was merely a cover Don was using initially to ditch Kelly when his feelings for her started to deepen at the end of last season. But he was too smitten, and so he decided to, last-minute, follow through with the fabrication. Now, having squired Kelly to Iceland with no dying mother to visit, Don finds himself on a desperate search to conjure such a figure. He spots a woman who only speaks Icelandic, poses as her hair colorist (claiming, in Icelandic, that Kelly is his assistant), and just like that, he has armed himself with a fictive human mother!
Richard — in a wheelchair because he is disappointed in his legs for not being fast enough to save Nancy from the aforementioned explosion — is escorted by Margaret downstairs to the cafeteria of her old folks’ home, lured by false promises of his favorite flavor of pudding (that’d be rice pudding, for posterity). BUT INSTEAD — he is confronted by a “healing ambush” of his old group comrades. Reptilians have acid for blood, so Richard negotiates with the group to give each other blood. The group reunites! Chelsea (Tracee Chimo) promises the group that they’ll be able to return to StarCrossed former meeting place, Father Doug (Oscar Nunez)’s church.
Back in Iceland, Don ponders telling Kelly the truth, psyching himself up in his faux mom’s hospital bathroom. After doing this for a bit, he returns to the main room, only to find that his fake mom’s real family has arrived. Kelly, though, has left in a huff after discovering that, you know, Don was lying to her about having a dying mother. Don exits the hospital frantically.
Gerry (Luka Jones), who had been abducted by Jeff at the end of last season’s last episode, “Snake Man and Little Guy,” awakens in Jeff’s lab space, just before some ominous-sounding tests are going to be run on him. He wakes up before treatment and acknowledges the aliens. Gerry, a longtime alien enthusiast who had joined StarCrossed under false pretenses (he had not yet been abducted when he joined the abductee group, but had always desperately wanted to be) requests that Jeff or Eric tell him he’s special, just as the aliens’ prior “specimens” (the rest of StarCrossed) have been told before him. Jeff assures Eric that this is a method he developed to calm down his human test subjects. Eric approach a very excited Jerry and delivers the good news: Jerry, too, is special. Naturally Jerry responds to Eric in kind, and just as naturally Eric the cube takes a shining to his new specimen.
Back at the house he had rented in Iceland, Don discovers that Kelly has skipped and hopped on the next flight back to Beacon. All that she left behind was a small pink toothbrush, which he cradles in a moment of surprising poignance. It is at this moment that Jeff finds Don on Earth, beaming him back to the ship. A heartbroken Don barely acknowledges Eric and wanders off to his bedroom, toothbrush in tow.
It takes just a little smooching from Chelsea to convince her covert priest boyfriend Father Doug to let the previously-banned StarCrossed, led by Gina (Ana Gasteyer), to host meetings at his church again — under a fake group identity, of course.
The second season of People of Earth being positioned for a mid-summer release was a welcome surprise for this viewer, who assumed the show would return around the Halloween premiere of its preceding season aired. I forgot how propulsive this show’s central story was to its narrative, without sacrificing any of its great, character-based humor or its distinctive oddness. This really is an ensemble piece, and for the tale of what’s looking to be a near-apocalyptic alien invasion, it handles everything with a lightness of tone that is as exciting as it is unexpected.
Season 2, Episode 1 (S02E01)
People of Earth airs Mondays at 10:30PM on TBS
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor