Created by Mike Armstrong, a one time head writer for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and co-writer of the Sandra Bullock film Stolen Hearts (but don’t let that put you off), this was the last thing he was ever involved with tv wise which is pretty disappointing as it’s a show which is extremely likeable and the set up suggests it could have explored areas and played with ideas which your standard sitcom could never do.
Directed by the man who helmed Galaxy Quest, Dean Parisot, and starring Paul Ruebens, Matthew Lillard, Jane Lynch and Bruce McGill, Area 57’s set in an army base which as all have probably guessed is an Area 51 style place, which comes complete with an extra terrestrial played by Reubens. Lillard is assigned to the base and asked to look after the creature whilst Lynch is on hand to explain everything and introduce him to his boss (McGill), who completely ignores him and carries on beating the shit out of one of his soldiers. It’s a boxing match so not completely untoward, but the General is most of the time, refusing to call the visitor an alien, commenting “Is he from another planet? Maybe. Or is it some kind of…Chinese person?”. Getting the chance to be idiotic and politically incorrect McGill has a ball playing the role, and provides a lot of the funniest lines in the episode.
From the get go it’s clear that it’s not going to be plain sailing for Lillard though, as he arrives to the news that the alien is dead, and that everyone’s shipping out. Which is much to the glee of all involved, mainly because “The visitor liked to stir it up, he messed with everybody, even got your predecessor believing that a cow could predict the future”. But when Lillard accidentally spills coffee on the corpse it turns out he’s alive after all, and everyone is disappointed that they’re unable to escape the base. The never named alien is bald and mostly earless but otherwise looks human, and whilst Reubens talks in his normal voice rather than the one he uses for Pee-Wee Herman he’s equally quirky when it comes to his physicality. Whilst Lillard is a strong performer he’s largely the straight man here, allowing for Reubens to be all kinds of daft when the script demands it, and ready to embarrass anyone and everyone whenever he gets the chance. Lillard does get to be silly in once scene though, after he’s electrocuted by the alien’s craft and it’s a moment which suggests he certainly has comedy chops and then some.
Jane Lynch is a joy as always, a sharp foil to Lillard’s all too optimistic lead, but Reubens gets the showy part and is the highlight, and it’s a character that I think would have been a big hit with the viewing public. Indeed whilst I’ve liked most of the pilots I’ve covered so far in One and Done in many cases I can understand why the network didn’t pick them up, be it that they were too strange or lacked potential to become an ongoing series. But this really isn’t the case here, and I think it would have been successful if it had been given a chance.
The script is smart and moves at an impressive pace, setting up a whole load of potential plotlines, and the alien’s fondness for screwing with everyone involved (including making a male dog pregnant and throwing a jeep through the air) suggests there’s a lot of fun the writers could have with the concept. It’s an appealing and engaging show, and it left me wishing there was a lot more of it to view.
You can watch the pilot on youtube here.