Former The Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac‘s recognizable guise notwithstanding, People of Earth‘s first season was never really about one person. (Or one alien, for that matter.) Created by David Jenkins and executive produced by The Office and Parks and Recreation maestro Greg Daniels, the goofy TBS comedy series instead focused its known and pseudo-scientific energies on multiple interlocking ensembles. The first (and most obvious) was StarCrossed, a tight-knit group of people claiming to have been abducted by aliens led by ex-psychiatrist Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer). The second consisted of their abductees, as well as the vast alien conspiracy of which they were a part.
I highlight these groupings, above and beyond any single member, because their wholes truly are greater than the sum of their parts. That’s not to say that Cenac, Gasteyer, Oscar Nuñez or the aliens themselves aren’t worthy of recognition, because many among People of Earth‘s massive cast shine whenever the camera points their way. Yet none of this would matter if Jenkins had designed the show to focus solely on Cenac’s disgraced reporter Ozzie Graham instead. What makes People of Earth stand out from the rest of peak TV’s comedy surplus is its adept use of the ensemble dynamic, and if the first three episodes of season two are any indication, the series hasn’t lost its touch.
Following the first season finale “Snake Man and Little Guy,” both StarCrossed and their alien tormentors are in disarray. Father Doug (Nuñez) has banned the former from using meeting at his church, sparking their dissolution, while Don the White (Björn Gustafsson) abandons his otherworldly duties with Jeff the Grey (Ken Hall) to whisk Kelly (Alice Wetterlund) off to Iceland. Meanwhile, Ozzie discovers everyone in the group — save non-experiencer Gerry (Luka Jones) — was previously abducted by the Reptilians when they were children. Just before practically everything goes to hell, however, Gerry finds himself targeted by a beam of light and screams with joy at his finally being taken. Also, the robot Nancy (Debra Lynne McCabe) explodes, revealing Jonathan Walsh’s (Michael Cassidy) true reptilian face to Richard’s (Brian Huskey) horror.
As made evident by the previous paragraph, there is a lot going on in the town of Beacon, New York. The second season premiere, “New Beginnings,” endeavors to cram as much as possible into a short summary before the title card. Fans will have no problem connecting the dots as StarCrossed and the aliens go about their business in the premiere, reconnecting with each other and plotting their next moves. Yet newcomers without an inkling of what happened last season will likely have trouble finding any dots at all. It’s a major caveat, though one that shouldn’t come as a surprise since People of Earth operates more like a serialized binger on Netflix than an episodic series on broadcast or cable television. Occasional entries like season one’s “Sponsored By” and the upcoming “Gerry’s Return” manage to stand out on their own, but most require a larger picture.
Once “New Beginnings” makes it past the hurdle of playing catch up (just as all returning shows must after an inter-season hiatus), subsequent episodes like “Uneasy Alliance” easily overcome these hangups. For despite the information overload, People of Earth is quite adept at rolling things along at a steady pace once it cues up its ensembles. This is especially true of FBI Special Agent Alex Foster (New Girl‘s Nasim Pedrad) and Eric the Cube (Peter Serafinowicz), the latest additions to StarCrossed and the alien ship respectively. The former, a hardworking detective trying to prove herself after an embarrassing accident, latches onto the support group after learning of their ties to Walsh, whom she’s investigating. As for the latter, very little is known about the floating black box build on corporate-speak who serves as Jeff and Don’s new boss. Even so, both serve as strong catalysts in for each group.
Foster’s extreme devotion to discerning the truth of Walsh’s nefarious financial activities recalls her fellow FBI colleagues’ mutual dedication (albeit in another program), whereas Eric’s Michael Scott-like attention to detail recalls executive producer Daniels’ television past. Comparisons notwithstanding, these new characters operate wonderfully one their own when first introduced, and ultimately reach their full potential when StarCrossed and the alien crew accept them — kicking and screaming — into their midst. And like Ozzie, Kelly, Jeff and everyone else on either side of People of Earth‘s primary divide, the newbies’ contributions to the comedy of errors work their magic only when compared side-by-side to everybody else’s screw-ups. That’s how, and when, Jenkins’ creation earns the fluffy designation the alien abductors give their human abductees to calm their nerves: “You are special.”
People of Earth‘s second season premieres tonight at 10:30pm ET/PT on TBS.