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Series / Hard Time on Planet Earth

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Hard Time on Planet Earth is a 13-episode comedic SF series. Produced by Touchstone Television, first aired on CBS in 1989 as a mid-season replacement.

The protagonist (played by Martin Kove) is a genetically-engineered elite warrior of an interstellar alien civilization. He has an excellent war record, but was unable to adjust to peaceful life, ultimately being apprehended for rebellion against the ruling council. The penalty for his actions is death, but in recognition of his previous heroic service, he is instead sentenced to exile on the primitive planet Earth, where he will exist in a human body and help the natives until he learns the value of restraint and compassion.

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For the duration of the sentence, the exile is supervised by Control — a small CGI floating robot resembling a mechanical eye — who evaluates the exile's behavior, files regular reports, gives information about Earth (usually hilariously incorrect), and provides comic relief.

The exile falls in the middle of nowhere not too far from Los Angeles, breaks into a closed gas station, learns some English from TV and a children's picture-book, steals some work clothes with the name "Jesse", gets chased by police and rescues a woman who almost drove off a cliff. She thinks "Jesse" is his name, and he plays along.

In the first episode, Jesse is familiarizing himself with Earth and trying to recover a lost pendant that powers his body, while running from police. Next one has Jesse and Control inadvertently robbing an ATM and losing the money, then trying to return it. In subsequent episodes, Jesse usually gets some odd job, which inevitably results in him meeting people in need of his help.

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The show never enjoyed high ratings, and was canceled after the 13th episode. Critics panned it for unoriginality and showing Disneyland. Still, it is fondly remembered by many among Generation X, most of whom saw it in their early teens.


Hard Time on Planet Earth provides examples of

  • Alien Among Us: Jesse. And other exiles.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Exiles are not allowed to teach natives things they should discover centuries later. One of the reasons Jesse doesn't want to be caught.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Jesse is stripped of his alien powers and technology before being exiled to Earth, but he's still really tough by human standards.
  • Catchphrase: Whenever something goes wrong.
    Control: Negative outcome. Not good.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The whole idea of sending criminals to a primitive but not too savage place. As Control remarks in the "Rodeo Show" episode, The Wild West wouldn't have been a punishment for Jesse.
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  • Cut Short: The series was cancelled after 13 episodes, and Jesse never made it home.
  • Fish out of Water: Both Jesse and Control, who was supposed to brief him about life on Earth.
  • Hover Bot: The protagonist is an alien sentenced to living on Earth. His FHR is a combination helper/jailer, as it's there primarily to make sure he doesn't leave.
  • Humans Are Ugly: In the pilot, Control tells Jesse, when he first sees his human face in the mirror, that human creatures are despicable and hideous. Jesse doesn't find Earth women attractive; or maybe he's trying to avoid any commitment that would complicate his exile.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: The protagonist stole some clothes with a name "Jesse". When the woman he rescued thought that was his name and started calling him Jesse, he decided to go along with that. He never bothered to get a surname.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: Sort of. Control does realize that humans are the dominant species of Earth, but keeps mistaking various mechanisms for sentient beings (often in positions of authority, like traffic light commanding everybody on the street). He gets offended or frustrated when they "ignore" him.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Jesse, especially in the early episodes, takes and means everything too literally.
  • Product Placement: "Losing Control" episode is set in Disneyland. Critics loved to hate it.
  • Status Quo Is God: In the episode "Something to Bank On", Jesse accidentally steals $200,000 cash from ATM machines and becomes a most wanted person by the police, his facial composite sketch appearing in the news. He is eventually arrested (while trying to bring back the money he stole), but escapes from custody. At the end, he decides to flee and become a fugitive of justice. However, Control hacks the LAPD computer system and deletes every record they had about Jesse, so, by the next episode, he is back to his usual routine, and his troubles with the law are completely forgotten.
  • Taught by Television:
    • In the first episode yet-nameless protagonist breaks into a house and spends the night watching TV. This gives him sufficient command of English and some wrong ideas about human behavior. This misinformation leads him into trouble several times, which is Played for Laughs. But he quickly learns from mistakes.
    • Control, on the other hand, continues to watch TV, takes everything literally and often comes with weird theories. Completely wrong, yet making perfect sense in context.
  • Walking the Earth: Jesse never stays anywhere for long, as he doesn't want humanity to learn too much about aliens. Each episode is set in a different place, with different guest stars.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the pilot episode, Jesse has a life-preserving crystal he wears in his neck, under his shirt — losing it means death to him. It's an important plot point in the pilot, however, it's never mentioned again afterwards. In fact, whenever we see Jesse bare-chested in later episodes, he does not wear the crystal. In the "Battle of the Sexes" episode, Danielle, who's from the same species as Jesse, did not have a crystal either.

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