No need to be sheepish. We’re among friends here. But raise your hand if the first few times you heard Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” you were convinced that the song, with its chorus beginning “I’m an alien/ I’m a legal alien,” was actually meant to be taken literally.
Sure, the song (apparently written about writer Quentin Crisp) is just about the alienating sense of being an outsider, of having people judge you for your accent or aspiring to civility in an uncivilized land. But it’s much more fun if it’s also about a spaceman.
It’s not adroit, or sensitive, to make a connection between aliens who come from outer space and people who cross borders from Mexico or Canada. It’s basically the premise of Alien Nation, V, two different television versions of Roswell and more sci-fi movies than I can count. That doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining to see an allegory handled well, and Showtime’s The Man Who Fell to Earth uses the allegory as a solid point of entry before aiming for a greater exploration of what it means to be human and, more than that, to be the steward of an entire planet.
If anything, Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman’s extension of the Walter Tevis novel and cult classic Nicolas Roeg film has too many allegorical things on its mind and not enough clarity on how to relay its various points about the desperate need for empathy, especially for the strangers in our midst. In just four episodes sent to critics, The Man Who Fell to Earth is at least two or three somewhat different shows, and there’s a tonal whiplash that can be perplexing. But thus far a delightful performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor holds the series together in ways that remain entertaining and full of potential.
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