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Series / Hard Time on Planet Earth

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Jesse searches for a second chance... and a shirt.

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 (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.

For the duration of the sentence, the exile is supervised by Control (Danny Mann) — 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.

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 Tropes on Planet Earth:

  • 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.
  • Amusingly Awful Aim: After Jesse joins the US Army, Corporal Curtis takes him to see the Bravo Team who are engaged in target practice. Their poor aim prompts Curtis to comment that the target is the safest place in the camp.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "The All American" episode ends with Bill returning home, which gives hope for Jesse; but that also means he effectively dies for his adoptive parents.
  • 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: Control has one of these for 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.
  • Cut Short: The series was cancelled after 13 episodes, so we'll never know if Jesse ever made it home.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: A Running Gag, at least Once per Episode. Usually Control tries to get information from television and mixes fact and fiction. Jesse occasionally "helps" people who don't need his help, like punching a mime "stuck in a force field".
  • The Fettered: Despite being exiled to Earth for rebellion, Jesse maintains a sense of honor, at least when it comes to fights. Perhaps the most ridiculous example of this was when he broke his cover (as a hot dog vendor) to intervene in a tag team wrestling match, as he disapproved of two "warriors" ganging up on a third.
  • 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 steals a work uniform imprinted with the name "Jesse". When the woman he rescues thinks that's name and starts calling him Jesse, he decides to go along with that. He never bothers 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 a 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 "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, the 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.