Alien Nation is a Buddy Cop Show with a Sitcom twist: the minority partner is a space alien. A human detective named Matthew Sikes is partnered with an alien immigrant named George Francisco to solve crimes arising from the uneasy relationship between the "Newcomers" and their human neighbors. The television series, based on the film Alien Nation, lasted for 22 episodes from September, 1989 to May, 1990. Five television movies were later produced, released between 1994 and 1997.As the story goes, at some point in the early 1990s, a malfunctioning starship loaded with a population of 250,000 alien slave laborers landed in the desert outside Los Angeles. The Newcomers (their real name is the Tenctonese) were remarkably adaptable to new information and environments. They are extremely strong and can learn quickly. They become intoxicated from spoiled milk, and their flesh burns when exposed to seawater.The Newcomers had two personal names, the one that they were given by their parents or former masters, and an "Earth name" handed out by the immigration service. With 250,000 names to distribute, and some of the officials apparently having had a quirky sense of humor, some of the names are quite odd. George's name was originally "Sam Francisco", but he changed it at Matt's request. Other odd Newcomer names: "Dallas Fort-Worth", "Amos N. Andy", "Polly Wannacracker", "Thomas and Alva Edison".The situation of the Newcomers is a clear parallel to many other immigrant populations throughout history. They are isolated by their culture and language, and have to strike a balance between assimilation into Earth culture and maintaining their roots. They experience discrimination, and are forced into jobs as laborers in hostile environments. They are accused of "Takin' our Jobs!" by many blue-collar types.Matt himself is initially very bigoted towards Newcomers, but as is typical for such a plot, he learns to accept his new partner. He even ends up in a serious relationship with a Newcomer woman, Cathy Frankel.
This show provides examples of:
Aborted Arc: A couple in the jump from pilot to series, and from series to TV-movies. A sampling:
The plot-thread about a virus crossing from Newcomers to humans in the pilot is never mentioned again.
The kicker of the pilot is that an Overseer conspiracy is responsible for the death of Sikes' previous partner. While the Overseers do show up later in the series, they have nowhere near the level of power implied by the pilot, nor is murdering Sikes' partner ever brought up again.
In the last few episodes of the series, Buck becomes close with a social activist teacher; in the series finale, they begin an affair. Not only is this never brought up again, in the second TV-movie, Buck is joining protests against human/Newcomer mating. (The novelization of the first movie attempts to smooth this out with her telling Buck it wouldn't have lasted, and moving elsewhere)
Sikes' dad was more neglectful than physically abusive, but the effect was largely the same
George is guilty of this. He throws Buck around and almost strikes him. Later, he's physically rough with Emily as well as yelling at her while he tries to wash off an Overseer mark she made on her wrist. Yelling at a child is usually non-abusive, but in the second case, Emily hadn't intentionally done anything wrong. It was akin to a human child realising that people are scared of/dislike the Nazi swastika or KKK hood and reasoning that it one of them would make a good Halloween costume.
But keep in mind the situation was also equivalent to a child dressing up as a Nazi and walking up to a parent who was a Holocaust survivor. Slavery wasn't something George had heard about on the news, it was something he'd lived through about a decade before. His anger is pretty understandable.
It should also be noted that he broke down in tears and apologized to her the instant he realized what he was doing.
Also in the situation with Buck George had come to the end of his patience while his son had been a blatantly Ungrateful Bastard, openly insulting his Mother, Father, and his Father's partner and friend who had stood up to an angry mob the day before in defense of Buck's own sister.
Adaptive Ability: The Newcomers were a slave race bred to adapt to any environment; Earth is a tough one for them, though...
Affably Evil: The Purist leader in the series finale and first movie is a genuinely sweet old lady who is orchestrating genocide by bioweapon.
Alien Among Us: The Tenctonese/Newcomers are refugees and slaves. In this case it was over 100,000 aliens, who form their own community in Los Angeles. Therefore the cultural misunderstandings went both ways, as humans learned to deal with odd newcomer traditions.
One of the TV movies had Cathy moving in with Matt and decorating the place with clown paintings and figurines. It turns out that clowns are pretty popular with the Tenctonese, partly because they're so colorful, and partly because the Tenctonese have never seen anything like them.
In the series, Cathy can't understand how Matt can watch something as violent as The Three Stooges, and recommends a really great movie... The Love Bug.
Alternate History: Because the aliens landed Twenty Minutes into the Future when the original movie was made, by the time of some of the later episodes and movies of the series, technology has progressed very differently. In the most recent one, the internet and interaction technology have obviously taken huge leaps forward, but everyone was still using CRT monitors well after most of the "real" world had switched to flatscreen.
Also, apparently the ERA passed at some point and Puerto Rico is a US state.
As You Know: "Millennium" does this to recap the episode where Sikes and Francisco found the Portal. Justified a little bit in that the episode in question was broadcast 6 years earlier and happened in-universe 3 years earlier, but it's still pretty blatant.
Beware the Nice Ones: George is polite, mild-mannered, and rule-abiding. Until you push him that inch too far, and then you're gonna be very sorry.
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Betsy Ross is a successful entrepreneur and pillar of the Newcomer community. In fact, she's a ruthless drug kingpin. But the real kicker is that she's one of the Overseers.
Bizarre Alien Biology: The basis for 1/4 of the show's humor. Newcomers can't get near saltwater, it's like taking a bath in battery acid for them. They blink when they sneeze. Partway through a pregnancy, the female transfers the natal pod to the male. Instead of getting headaches, their feet swell when under stress. Their bodies cannot process cooked meat proteins (they can eat it, but they don't get anything out of it), so they eat their food raw.
Bizarre Alien Sexes: Newcomers have a third, also male-looking sex called Binnaum, who are necessary for catalyzing a pregnancy. Binnaums offer a high-demand service, but make up a very small percentage of the population.
Black and Gray Morality: Examined in "Night of the Screams". The Overseers win no prizes at all for their abuses, but the Newcomer murdering them on Earth isn't exactly brimming over himself with sweetness and light.
Paul Revere: Are you our future, George? Tempered by laws we didn't write.
Paul Revere: The humans can never share the horror the Overseers created for us. How can they possibly write laws to exterminate them?
Black Like Me: Slag Like Me, an Expanded Universe novel in which a human reporter goes undercover as a Newcomer and reports on their experiences. Matt and George wind up having to investigate the murder.
Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Most of the Newcomers. George and Cathy especially flub a lot of expressions around Matt.
Bug War: A hate group attempts to invoke this trope, claiming the Newcomers are actually the pupa stage of a race of giant killer beetles. Turns out the giant bug was just some hired goon in a costume.
While uncommon, penitent Overseers do exist. In one episode, George speaks with a penitent former Overseer who wears a headscarf to indicate her atoning status.
In the Expanded Universe novels one of the FBI agents George deals with is an Overseer, who, according to the canon established in the TV movies, was vetted by a truth and reconciliation commission such that all Overseers are either: behaving, in prison, or dead.
Child Soldiers / Tykebomb: The Udara "seeded" sleeper agents to fight the Overseers during slavery, many of whom were children, including Emily.
Chekhov's Skill: In one of the Expanded Universe novels, George starts seeing anagrams for every word he sees, English or Tenctonese. This lets him deduce that a shadowy cabal of Overseers are 'hiding in plain sight' as the Serovese Corporation.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: In the pilot, Emily is befriended by Molly, daughter of the Francisco's neighbor. Despite appearing in the opening credits in the first half of the series, Molly never appears again.
Halfway through the series, along with Molly, two other characters are removed from the opening credits; Burns the reporter is a major character in one later episode, but fellow detective Dobbs is never seen again.
Continuation: After the series was canceled, the story was continued in a series of Tie-In Novels. Two of them (Dark Horizon and Body and Soul) were based on unfilmed scripts, which were later made into Made-for-TV Movies.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: In "Gimme Gimme"; the textile manufacturer's factory has numerous workplace safety violations and pays their workers as little as he can legally get away with.
Date Rape: Emily is almost the victim of this in the third movie.
Don't You Like It?: Inverted: If you give flowers to the Tenctonese make sure the roots are intact. Dying flowers are unpleasant.
In one of the movies, a Purist poisons Emily and Susan with infected flowers, and he's shown buying them at a stand and asking specifically for live flowers as a gift for Newcomers. The cut flowers Matt brought to the hospital were especially inappropriate because of the Tenctonese practice of surrounding a sick person with living things, even animals.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: On at least one occasion, a former Overseer was astonished that George, a former slave, would risk himself to protect a former Overseer.
Evil-Detecting Baby: Vessna starts to cry when she's near Ahpossno, and she's right about that, since he's an Overseer scout send out to find the ca. quarter-million wayward Tenctonese and wouldn't say no to a coupla millions of humans as slaves, either.
The "Kleezantsun<klick>" (Tenctonese for "Overseers", those who maintained order among the slaves on the ships) regard the other Tenctonese as inferior and even use Human anti-Tenctonese slurs to refer to them ("slag") and to separate themselves from the "dregna" (Tenctonese for "cargo", an Overseer slur referring to Tenctonese under their control).
Special notice must be given to "The Enemy Within," the fourth movie, which deals with the Fantastic Racism the Newcomers feel towards the Eenos, an untouchable class of Newcomers. The Eenos were the ones given the most disgusting jobs on the slaveship, such as to do with wastes and the dead. The other Newcomers like to believe that there is something dirty about the Eenos themselves, rather than admit that they would have done the same things if forced to by their slavemasters.
Fantastic Slur: Human bigots (or Overseers) refer to Newcomers as "slags" or "spongeheads". Humans, in return, are called "Terts."
"jabluka" (after the Russian word "jabloko", meaning "apple"), the horrible Tenctonese drug from the pilot movie (It is spelled jabrokah in the novels, though.)
"Gruza", the name of the slave ship (after the Russian word "gruz", meaning "cargo". "Cargo" is an Overseer slur referring to Tenctonese under their control)
"serdso" (after the Russian word "serdcе", meaning "heart"), a religious object of the Tenctonese. Tenctonese believe that their souls leave their bodies in their sleep and that a serdso guides them back.
"bardok" (from the Russian word "bardak", meaning "disorder"), rosto (from the Russian word "rost", meaning "growth [in height]") and "yunost" (from the Russian word "yunost'", meaning "youth", probably a nod at the fact, that a certain Tenctonese organ has an rejuvenating effect, when implanted in humans), enzymes from the Tenctonese metabolism.
"Ahpossno" (from the Russian word "opasno", meaning "dangerous"), a fitting name for the Overseer scout, who came to Earth to investigate the disappearance of a quarter-million "cargo", although he saves the Tenctonese from a annihilation attempt by bio-weapon from a Purist group (out of self-interest; the Overseers don't profit from dead "cargo").
"Chekkah" (from the Russian abbreviation "chekkah", a colloquial name for one of the forerunner-organisations of the infamous KGB), an elite Overseer reconnaissance unit. Ahpossno is a memeber of this unit.
"Karabla" (from the Russian word "karabl' ", meaning "ship") a religious object used in Tenctonese marriage ceremonies (the spouses place their "serdsos" (see above) in the karabla to symbolize their marriage as a journey of two souls together), shaped like a ship.
The Tenctonese name of the wife of Albert Einstein, the police precinct janitor, is "Okiana" (from the Russian word "okean", meaning "ocean").
The word word 'miliciya' and means in Tenctonese, like it meant in Russian, "police"
Good Cop/Bad Cop: George Francisco and Matt Sikes, respectively. But hilariously reversed in 'Contact' against an Anti-Newcomer suspect.
Green-Skinned Space Babe: Take your pick of Cathy or Susan: pinkish-hued, bald, and spotted, Tenctonese women were surprisingly attractive.
G-Rated Drug: Newcomers get intoxicated on sour milk. The yeast-fermented stuff that we humans prefer has no effect on them.
Heel-Face Turn: The Overseer scout ultimately makes one. He returns to the main fleet and informs them that the escapees to Earth all died of the disease he's caught himself, not only making them think there's nothing to recover, but that the planet itself is a Death World for them.
Many of the Tenctonese, especially George, believe that Humans Are Special because they welcomed the Newcomers into their world, gave total freedom to a species bred to be perfect slaves, and asked no more of them than they would of themselves. Racism aside, that's pretty damn impressive.
Lysistrata Gambit: Tenctonese are implied to be culturally more rational about sex; it happens, it's enjoyable, it shouldn't be taken lightly (they find oversexualized things such as pornography silly), and it doesn't matter what gender both partners are. One of Susan's coworkers boasts about the effectiveness of this technique, just as a rather complicated issue pops up. Susan is curious, but by the end of the episode the woman is divorced: her husband just became sick and tired of being screwed with, to the point where he said "Take as much money as you want, just never come near me again!"
Make a Wish: Subverted in the first TV Movie, when Sikes, in the way to the hospital, where Emily and Susan are after a bio-weapon attack with poisoned flowers, sees a shooting star and thinks, "It'll bring luck..." It won't, it is a scout from the Overseers, who want to bring the quarter-million Tenctonese back with superior military technology and won't be too sad about some millions of human slaves as a bonus.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Sikes is killed by a Newcomer robbing a convenience store, but suddenly, after a vision of the robber touching his chest, Sikes comes back to life. George gives him an alternate medical explanation, but Sikes thinks the robber has some sort of mystical powers. When they catch the robber, he portrays himself as a combination Messianic figure/Robin Hood out to save the world, and offers to show Sikes his powers. Unusually for this trope, by the end of the episode one of the explanations is disproved the robber had no mystical powers, he was just trying to get a chance to escape we aren't given any sort of conclusive answer, aside from the rather lackluster medical explanation.
Sikes: I hope they don't charge us for that table.
George: Do you think they might? I only tapped it.
Punny Name: Most of the Newcomers, including George (whose human name officially was "Sam Francisco"). Explained as the immigration authorities getting burned out assigning names to the Newcomers and resorting to a form of sarcastic humor. Likewise with the title of the series itself.
And in the books it comes up they don't handle cold well at all: evidently their common buyers favored hot, dry worlds and they've been adapted to deserts. This is a minor factor contributing to their continued concentration in Los Angeles.
Retcon: In the transition from Movie to TV Series, the actors were recast and the ages of relative ages of Matthew Sikes and his daughter were changed. George's family grew and his children were aged up with Matt's daughter was aged down to a teenager for the series. Events from the movie, however, were referenced several times in the two-hour Pilot Episode, and some footage was reshot and spliced with footage from the movie for flashbacks, now featuring the younger Matt Sikes of the series in place of James Caan, who played the character in the original movie. When the series was revived in the form of TV Movies, Canon Discontinuity was again selective: Emily, George's young daughter, was aged up to a teenager while Buck, the older son, didn't seem to age between the series and the first TV movie, nor did Baby Vessna. Additionally, the "bacteria" of the series finale was recast as a virus for the first TV movie. These discrepancies can only be solved by the application of the Literary Agent Hypothesis. Also, the color of Tenctonese blood was made pink in the TV show and the TV movies, probably to appease censors, whereas it was the same color as human blood in the original movie.
The male Tenctonese design was also changed (at least for George) from being much burlier than a typical human male, to being the same body form range as human males. They're still just as strong as ever.
Russian Roulette: Tenconese style (George explicitly referred to Russian Roulette, when he described the "game"). In episode 10, they reveal a gruesome "game" from the time of slavery: Two Tenctonese sit at opposite and of a rotating machine, that either sprays normal water... Or salt water (like hydrochloric acid to Tenctonese).
Science Is Bad: In episode 2, the criminal was a human scientist who was extracting a gland from his Newcomer patients in order to reverse aging in his human ones, which killed the Newcomers. At the end of the episode Matt burns his research, invoking this trope in combination with Humans Are Bastards, saying essentially that while a more ethical scientist could probably have done something good with it, he couldn't trust that someone couldn't have used it to do something worse
Screwed by the Network: Was cancelled by Fox after its first season, despite being quite popular. At the time Fox was losing a lot of money and needed to cut production on numerous shows. They saw more profit in their comedy shows, so the dramas—like Alien Nation—were cut.
Shaming the Mob: In the pilot, when a group of 'concerned parents' tries to keep Emily out of her school, Sikes lets them all have it. This may be one of the first times Sikes himself treats a Newcomer with any respect, but he does have limits.
The video is here. Following the verbal smackdown, Sikes asks them all, "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? Aren't you?" A black protester, of age to have seen racial integration of public schools first hand, can't answer.
Teacher/Student Romance: Buck and his English teacher start making out near the end of the last episode of the series. This storyline is not continued in the TV-Movies. (It is addressed in the novelization, however.)
The Dreaded: Chorboke, who was thought to have died on Earth.
Title Drop: When a Tenctonese stole an Overseer mind control gas, she said that "With this I can control an alien nation."
Too Dumb to Live: The guy who tries to seduce Emily in the third TV movie. This is idiotic to begin with, given that sexually experienced inter-species couples need months of classes to have sex safely. But wait, it gets better. After getting her to come to his house, he goes to the next room to have a phone conversation in which he brags about how he's going to "shag the slag". Emily, like all Newcomers, has superhuman hearing. Oops. But the kicker? After she finds out what he's up to, he assaults her, despite the fact that A: she has superstrength, and B: her father is a cop.
Unusual Euphemism: The aliens use the term "sikes", which is later revealed to literally translate as "excrement cranium" ("shithead"). Coincidentally, the main human character is named Sikes...
Weaksauce Weakness: Newcomer flesh dissolves on contact with salt water. When they first arrive, they can't even leave the ship's crash site in California due to the salt content of Earth's atmosphere. They slowly build up resistance, and after a few years can live comfortably in coastal air. However it's still often a plot point, because salt is such an easy and safe weapon for humans to use against the physically superior aliens. One Newcomer is assassinated by hitmen dumping rock salt in his swimming pool, and Emily is nearly blinded by a thug with a squirt pistol.
It is not necessarily a supernatural power of his. Somewhere in the show was mentioned, that all Newcomers (everyone younger, at least) was born on the ship and that they were genetically engineered, except elders like him, who were born on the home planet. So it can very well be, that this weakness to salt water was put into the genome of the slaves to keep them under control, since, probably, there was not much salt water on the ship, so they still could work efficiently as slaves.
Well-Intentioned Extremists: the Udara, a resistance movement against the Overseers during enslavement, who used any means necessary, up to and including creating sleeper agents (many of whom were children).
Wicked Cultured: Ahpossno, the Overseer scout, who wants to bring back the ca. quarter-million Tenctonese to slavery and also enslave all of humanity, likes music and nice house decoration and is highly knowledgeable in his culture.
Yiddish as a Second Language: An old doctor George and Matt interview about stolen Newcomer blood just keeps on spouting off in Yiddish. George's face as he tries to follow the conversation is hilarious.