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 is an alien genetically-engineered elite military officer. He has proven himself worthy during the war, for which he was created, but poorly adjusted to peaceful life and committed some unmentioned violent crimes. In recognition of his previous deeds he is sentenced to exile to a backward planet Earth. He shall live there in a weak human body (still quite strong by Earth standards) and help the natives until he reforms.
For the duration of the exile he is supervised by Control — a small CGI floating robot resembling a mechanical eye. He evaluates the prisoner's behavior, files regular reports, gives information about Earth (usually hilariously incorrect) and provides comic relief. Not that the series was very serious.
So the exile (played by Martin Kove) 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 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, 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 them. In subsequent episodes Jesse usually gets some odd job, meets someone in need of help and tries to help.
The rating of the show never went high and it was canceled after the 13th episode. Critics panned it for unoriginality and showing Disneyland. Still, it is fondly remembered by many. Mostly by people, who saw it in their early teens.
The series has 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.
- 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 Rodeo episode, The Wild West wouldn't have been a punishment for Jesse.
- Fish out of Water: Both Jesse and Control, who was supposed to brief him about life on Earth.
- Like a Duck Takes to Water: But Jesse adapts pretty fast.
- Humans Are Ugly: Jesse doesn't find Earth women attractive. Or maybe he's trying to avoid any commitment.
- 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.
- Serkis Folk: Control.
- Taught by Television / Aliens Steal Cable: 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, but making perfect sense in context.
- Walking the Earth: Jesse never stays anywhere for long. Each episode is set in a different place and with different people. He doesn't want authorities to learn who he is, among other things.