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Close Encounters of the Bizarre Kind on 'People of Earth'
October 31, 2016  | By David Hinckley

When Kevin Reilly was hired to run the Turner entertainment networks, he said he wanted something different.

The new sitcom People of Earth, which debuts on TBS Monday at 9 p.m. ET, suggests his troops have gotten the message.

People of Earth revolves around journalist Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac), who writes a snarky story about a support group for people who claim they have been spirited away by aliens and then realizes he may be an “experiencer” himself.

TBS gets big points here for creativity and for thinking out of the sitcom box. The characters aren’t even all millennials.

It gets fewer points for potential long-term mass appeal.   

Once we’ve gotten the premise and heard the first two dozen alien jokes, it’s not clear exactly where this is going – which, come to think of it, is exactly what we might wonder if we were taken by aliens.

Ozzie starts out as a pretty normal guy. He’s worked at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and now he’s migrated to an online news site called Glint.

He travels to the small town of Beacon, N.Y., to sit in on the aforementioned support group session. He finds the people weird and deluded, which sounds like a normal enough reaction.  

Much of the session is taken up by Richard Shenk (Brian Huskey, left, center) expounding on Reptilians, the aliens with whom he had his experience. They are, he declares, the most advanced and significant aliens.

Most U.S. presidents were Reptilians, he adds, as were most of his bosses, which he says explains why he found it so hard to get raises.

Viewers might suspect there were other reasons as well.

Other members of the group say their experiences were with the other two types of aliens, Whites and Greys. The session ends with a verbal melee in which each group argues for the importance of his or her alien.

Ozzie writes this up and Glint boss Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy) likes it so much that he throws it up on the website before Ozzie can give him a final draft. Among other things, this means that Ozzie has not been able to change the names of people in the group, which he had promised them he would do.

Alas, Ozzie also develops a bigger problem. He might be an “experiencer” himself, a fact surmised by group leader Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer).

So Ozzie quits his job, moves to Beacon and returns to the group, this time as a potential sharer rather than a skeptical observer.

That “normal” glow around Ozzie is fading.

There are a couple of places People of Earth could go from here. There’s support group satire, media satire, and alien jokes. Aliens themselves could become characters, not simply plot devices. In that sense, aliens have way more potential than, say, zombies.

From early episodes it looks like we’ll get a combination of all that. It’s also pretty clear that the support group will become the dysfunctional family that forms the mandatory core of all sitcoms.

While it’s not quite revolutionary, People of Earth is definitely different. Trouble is, weirder doesn’t necessarily mean better, and at some point it will need some grounding if we’re going to buy the idea that Ozzie Graham isn’t simply crackers.

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