The premise of the show is that four aliens inhabit earth bodies to learn about the planet. This means that John Lithgow gets to do scenes of physical comedy when, for example, his character comes across a kleenex box for the first time and is astounded at the tissue-dispensing mechanism. You know, that really is an amazing bit of paper-fold engineering. Score one for the writers.
I think the reason I found the show engaging this time around, at least these first bearing-getting episodes, is that these characters seem to be experiencing earth and its inhabitants the way I've been experiencing The Eagle and its patrons. Yes, I'm still being a barfly, and a bigger and more pathetic one than ever. I look forward to that time at the end of the weekend evening when I head over to close out my day. As I enter the bar I feel a little rush of anticipation, as I wonder who might be there and whether I might meet somebody new, or get to know somebody a little better. Then I consider that the bulk of the people coming to this particular bar probably have something a bit different, or perhaps a bit more specific in mind. I haven't yet fully learned or assimilated the customs of this planet's inhabitants.
Try to picture me at a leather bar in the first place. Right there you've got the makings of a comedy sketch. Then picture me walking about, beer mug in hand, introducing people I know to each other. Picture me standing around on the back patio and laughing. I think I'm detracting from the image the bar is trying to cultivate.
But I'm learning. I'm watching folks. I'm listening to what people say and, more significantly, don't say. I'm asking questions. I'm catching on to some of the rules. As on Third Rock, it all has the air of off-kilter farce. Which just makes me laugh all over again and destroys whatever progress I may have made in passing as a native.
On Friday I was having a giggly (and flirtatious!) time with three men on the back patio (there aren't many nights left this season when we'll be able to stand outside like this, so we're trying to take advantage). I was looking about at the men who lean against the walls, dour looks on their faces, eyes appraising all who walk before them. I decided that I should learn to do attitude, and step one would be trying not to smile. I announced this to my companions. And I tried. I tried, off and on, for the entire remainder of the evening. I thought about sad things. I forced my lips together. Yet I just couldn't do it. The more I tried not to smile, the goofier my grin got. I was John Lithgow doing physical comedy.
I have a distance to go, I fear, and I will probably never lose my quaint ways. But I think this show has a bit of life left in it. And maybe, just maybe, the aliens will have a smidgen of influence on the earthlings before this drama runs its course.