With “Truth or Dare,” TBS’s PEOPLE OF EARTH returns to what it does best this week, coloring in the margins as it builds out two supporting character narratives in its cozy ensemble, while also setting some potentially major plot mechanizations in motion. It prioritizes character-cultivating without sacrificing its storytelling momentum, no small feat.
On the alien ship observing earth, supervisor Eric the Cube (Peter Serafinowicz) calls Jeff the Grey (Ken Hall) out on his negligence of his newly-assigned janitorial tasks. He has video surveillance footage of Jeff kissing Kurt the Reptilian (Drew Nelson) while the latter was still believed to be dead and laid out on a slab, and uses this to essentially blackmail Jeff into scrubbing the hallway floor with a toothbrush.
Back on earth — specifically, back in Beacon, New York — Alex Foster (Nasim Pedrad) shows up at StarCrossed alien encounters group leader Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer)’s house to bid farewell before rejoining the FBI. Alex, pretty clearly, has another agenda — she was given an envelope, anonymously, at an alien fan convention last week (though we know it was from Don the White). It simply read “Family,” with a number to call. An orphan grabbling with severe abandonment issues, Alex needs Gina’s therapeutic skills to abet her in processing this sudden development.
Elsewhere, fellow StarCrossed experiencers Kelly (Alice Wetterlund), Gerry (Luka Jones), and Chelsea (Tracee Chimo) show up as character witnesses to support Richard (Brian Huskey) as he defends himself against his former employer, Glemtech Manufacturing, in a mediation. Richard thinks that his firing was unjust, and a direct result of his experience with an extraterrestrial. As we’ll soon discover, he is (surprisingly) half-right.
Aboard the ship, Jeff and Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy) confer in a supply closet. Jeff explains that he has been “compromised” with Eric’s incriminating surveillance footage. Jonathan tries to encourage Jeff to explain his feelings to Kurt so that Eric cannot lord that over him — and they can move forward with their coup of the ship. When we return to the ship, Jeff attempts to communicate his feelings to Kurt, who remains uncomfortably jumpy following his experience getting run over by a car last season. Jeff decides instead that he and Walsh have to destroy the footage of him smooching an unconscious Kurt from the ship’s records.
Alex relays her fears with Gina. She shares a particularly biting headline that turns out to be at the heart of her insecurities, surrounding the mysterious circumstances of her own birth: “Abandoned Baby Found Abandoned In Local Nursery Store.” Yes, the article used “Abandoned” twice to really drive the point home. The FBI blanketed New Mexico in search of Alex Foster’s family, and would frequently check up on her as she made her way through a series of foster homes, which may be (a) why she has a kinship with and an interest in the FBI and (b) why her last name is “Foster.”
Alex also unpacks an embarrassing workplace incident: she burst into a potential crime scene without backup — and accidentally shot herself in the foot — because she heard a baby crying and stopped thinking rationally. Gina uses this memory to galvanize Alex to call the number from the note.
While combing through surveillance footage in search of the incriminating Jeff-on-Kurt smooch, Jonathan Walsh discovers that Eric the Cube recharges at exactly the same time every day — thus presenting Walsh and Jeff with a perfect opportunity to stage their mutiny!
During Richard’s mediation, Richard lists all his Glemtech Manufacturing ex-coworkers’ cruel bullying tactics and gross vocational incompetence. As the evidence piles up, the viewer gains something resembling respect and sympathy for the eccentric, wrongfully terminated employee. We took him for a fool, when in fact he was merely a sap. The mediator agrees, and rules that Glemtech reinstate Richard and pay him $75,000 in damages for emotional stress.
The StarCrossed team celebrates Richard’s victory against Glemtech with an impromptu pajama party (which had been a particularly moral-sapping sticking point for Richard at Glemtech). Richard has decided to quit, and use the $75,000 as potential seed money to start his own business, one that will lack the general meanness of Glemtech.
Alex Foster, meanwhile, has discovered that she has a twin sister, and elects to linger in Beacon a bit longer, after all — postponing her return to the FBI, and her supervisor (secretly an alien with designs on Alex’s death).
On the ship, Jeff tells Kurt that the mutiny is going down tomorrow. Gerry, who has been secretly programmed by Eric the Cube to construct a tiny alien ship, finally finishes the project in a hypnotized haze.
People of Earth is really at its best when it balances humor and genuine sentiment with its over-arcing alien mystery story threads, and that’s something “Truth or Dare” readily achieves. A recurring story element of Gerry and his off-screen girlfriend Yvonne (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) hosting a soiree for their friends is called back to several times and never paid off; the lack of resolution here is a bit frustrating, but here’s hoping that next week’s episode opens with their shindig. If so, may this criticism be struck from the record.
Season 2, Episode 9 (S02E09)
People of Earth airs Mondays at 10:30PM on TBS
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor