Turning a concept as old as “My Favorite Martian” into something fresh and funny isn’t easy, but “Resident Alien” somehow manages that, fueled by its dark, offbeat tone and Alan Tudyk’s otherworldly skill playing the title character as a stranger in his own skin. Regular twists also help, in a serialized dramedy that turns the Dark Horse comic into a wonderfully addictive series.
The only minor cautionary note is that despite the broad nature of the comedy — Tudyk’s awkwardness falls somewhere between “Starman” and the masquerading aliens in the movie “Galaxy Quest” — the sometimes-raunchy material isn’t for young kids, who otherwise would probably love it. Older ones, by contrast, might identify with this strange visitor’s unfamiliar bodily sensations, which approximate a belated brush with puberty.
Tudyk’s “Harry” has come to Earth on a secret mission, but his ship crashed, and he lost his precious cargo. He hides out near the town of Patience, Colorado, as he looks for the device that will allow him to fulfill his objective — an E.T. who can’t go home, and one who’s pretty cranky about the whole situation.
Further complicating matters, Harry has inadvertently inhabited the body of a doctor and is sought out by local authorities to help examine a body after what appears to be a rare murder.
The mystery forces Harry to interact with people, something he has mostly avoided for months while teaching himself to talk by watching “Law & Order” reruns. Of course, the cop show doesn’t really help with his awful, explosive laugh, or little things like how to eat a hot dog and his first brush with alcohol.
Once in town, other headaches emerge, the most vexing being a local kid (Judah Prehn) who — in something of a fluke — can actually see Harry in his alien guise where other humans can’t. The alien’s first thought, naturally, is to kill him, although letting everyone think the boy’s nuts — including his parents — might get the job done just as well.
Perhaps even more uncomfortably, Harry actually begins to feel a degree of fondness for some of the townsfolk, especially Asta (Sara Tomko), a nurse at the local clinic. Being a doctor, he’s also seen as oddly eligible, bachelor-wise, despite his penchant for using crude slang at inappropriate times, such as when he’s discussing medical conditions.
Adapted by “Family Guy” writer Chris Sheridan, “Resident Alien” possesses the quirky qualities of a live-action cartoon, capitalizing on Tudyk’s weirdly endearing performance, which makes you root for Harry even with his occasional homicidal tendencies. The actor’s voice-over talents (from animated series to the robot in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) serve him, and the material, quite well.
There’s also a touch of “Northern Exposure” in the roster of small-town eccentrics, which makes it a little easier for Harry to hide in plain sight. Adding to the intrigue, later episodes introduce characters investigating the alien threat, one of them played by “The Terminator’s” Linda Hamilton.
Given the twists and turns, there’s always the risk that “Resident Alien” could begin to exhaust its premise; still, if the writers can sustain the creative orbit established by its opening batch of episodes, it looks like the kind of series that could extend its stay indefinitely.
“Resident Alien” premieres January 27 at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.