Human beings are strange, though we often don’t like to admit to the arbitrariness of many of our conventions or the contradictions inherent in our behaviors. But the beings of “Strange Planet,” the new Apple TV+ series based on Nathan W. Pyle’s graphic novels and web comics of the same name, embrace the eccentricities of their everyday lives, which look uncannily similar to our own.
In Pyle’s original web comic, blue humanoid aliens engage in familiar pastimes like going to amusement parks, throwing parties and playing sports, but they describe those activities and the objects around them with an alternate, more literal vernacular. Their flat way of speaking highlights the subtle absurdity in everything: confetti translates to “tiny trash,” teeth are “mouth stones” and coffee is “jitter liquid.”
The “Strange Planet” series, created by Pyle and Dan Harmon (“Rick and Morty,” “Community”) and premiering on Wednesday, successfully marries Pyle’s wholesome, observational humor with Harmon’s love of cerebral, dark-tinted comedy that unpacks the human experience via eccentric characters. For a show that doesn’t actually include any humans (just these “beings,” as they’re called, and various creatures), it has plenty of humanity.
Each of the 10 episodes, which will be rolled out weekly, tackles two or three themes, addressed through intersecting story lines. The first episode, titled “The Flying Machine,” is initially about the terrors and thrills of airplane travel (alleviated with the help of “tiny snacks”). But subplots revolving around two passengers drifting apart as a couple and a flight attendant’s promotion turn it into an exploration of how personal and professional relationships must be constantly renegotiated as we grow and our circumstances change.
The series replicates Pyle’s art, down to his primary use of blues, purples and pinks. What “Strange Planet” hasn’t figured out, however, is how to formally bridge the gap between the concise format of the comics and the more expansive narrative format of a television series.
Whereas Pyle’s beings — bulbous heads tapered down to thin, sexless bodies, like little blue raspberry Tootsie Roll pops — are anonymous in his comics, giving each joke or scenario an isolated quality, they appear recurringly on the show among a gradually widening circle of secondary characters.
As the beings aren’t boxed in by gender, race, background, politics or religion, the show gives everyone “they” pronouns and identifies them with clothes and accessories. The beings build out the world, giving it a distinct personality, traditions and history. But they also move the show further away from its quaint existential moments to a more uneven, and less interesting, zany kids’ cartoon model.
“Beings evolved over generations to prioritize honesty with other beings to the detriment of their own self-honesty,” one being says to another in one episode. It is a poignant statement, but coming after a silly story line involving power generators, secret cliff-side tunnels and a talent show, it has little impact.
The show fares better when it doesn’t try to toggle between thoughtful reflections and ridiculous plot antics. A story line in another episode, inspired by “Before Sunrise,” is much stronger for its simplicity: Two romantic interests spend the day wandering around and discussing their philosophies on life. “I guess all beings look for permanence when the lack of permanence is what makes life so interesting,” one says to the other while shopping. These plain-spoken sentiments give purpose to the beings’ endearing — though inconsistent and occasionally overdone — vocabulary, and give the show a unique gravitas.
More often than not, “Strange Planet” is cute and delightful. But when it settles in to its more ephemeral musings and universal thoughts, it’s more than just cute: It’s funny and it’s warm … like a cozy pair of fabric foot tubes right out of the tumble heater.
Content Source: www.nytimes.com