'People of Earth' Season 2: TV Review

People of Earth TBS - H
Experience it.

TBS' hilarious comedy about alien abductees aims to come out from under the radar in season two.

People of Earth, the TBS sitcom returning Monday for its second season, is arguably the funniest show you're not watching and easily one of the best comedies on television — no throat clearing or stammering or hesitancy needed there.

Of course, TBS says that across all platforms People of Earth averaged 4.2 million viewers an episode and "ranked as one of cable's Top 10 new comedies among adults 18-49 for 2016," which certainly sounds impressive and is probably true — but also doesn't seem to account for all the people who haven't seen it or even heard of it. Which is a shame, really, because — well, see above.

The comedy, executive produced by Conan O'Brien and Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Recreation, King of the Hill), was created by David Jenkins, slid relatively unnoticed into the TV landscape on Halloween in 2016 and departed, 10 episodes later, a week shy of Christmas — not exactly ideal for getting noticed. (But hey, 4.2 million per episode is pretty impressive, so maybe it just felt like it avoided the zeitgeist entirely.)

In any case, getting people to discover a quirky, smart, often hilarious and surprisingly charming sitcom about a group of alien abductees seemed like a hard sell no matter how much enthusiasm went into making it, but an emphatically funny first three episodes (the amount TBS gave for review) in this second season should be the confirmation any deniers need.

It's really time to discover People of Earth.

What Jenkins has done is craft a series where the depth of the multiple characters (more than 15 of them) was readily evident in the early episodes of season one, flourished as the season unfolded and now props up a compelling ongoing story that keeps delivering the laughs.

Wyatt Cenac plays Ozzie, a New York journalist who, in season one, is sent to upstate New York to investigate and write about StarCrossed, a support group of alien abductees ("experiencers"), a task so terrible and annoying that Ozzie can barely roll his eyes while doing it. Cenac's droll suffering through all the people he meets in tiny Beacon, New York, was the perfect foil for the absurd stories he's told — which, no spoiler because it's the whole point of the show, turn out to be totally true.

People of Earth introduced the aliens pretty quickly, highlighted by Jeff the Grey (Ken Hall), a bubble-headed, black-eyed, three-fingered alien who mostly hates his job, loathes his co-workers and can't stand humans, the very people he has to analyze for data once they've been abducted. It's one of the better office-based characters in ages and Hall took Jenkins' fantastic material and made everything of it. If you don't love Jeff the Grey immediately, you're watching the wrong show.

StarCrossed is led and co-founded by Gina (Ana Gasteyer), a former New York psychiatrist who moves upstate after some bad advice to a patient and ends up discovering deeply buried secrets from the "experiencers" (it turns out Beacon has a pretty high percentage of alien issues and general weirdness).

The group was co-founded by Gerry (Luka Jones), a self-described "alientologist" who knows everything there is to know about the aliens and their rankings (white, grey and reptilian, the last being the most advanced, blending in with humans) but who has never been abducted himself, no matter how hard he tries. It's a tribute to the consistently clever writing on People of Earth that Gerry's running joke was tossed aside at the end of the first season when he is, in fact, finally abducted. This is a show that has a number of good call-back jokes (like when the aliens say, "Don't get weird, OK?" to humans as they reveal themselves) only to be emboldened to move on to more good stuff in the pursuit of an ongoing story.

What was most surprising about the first season of People of Earth was how quickly it went through stories and pushed forward, when it could have easily shifted into neutral and cruised through a number of its humorous scenarios or lingered an any number of the well-crafted characters. That it actually has a fairly complicated and interesting story to tell seems almost secondary to the situation in the situation comedy, but People of Earth is impressively deft in lots of areas.

Again, it's hard to oversell how well-drawn the multiple characters are here. When you toss in H. Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob's Burgers, Master of None) as almost an afterthought last season and that character shines and grows too, you're truly dealing.

Backstory growth was a hallmark of season one and it often seemed effortless. Multiple storylines revealed one charm after the next instead of being annoying distractions. Little tidbits of comedy related to the quirks of each character and their stories hammered home how thoroughly Jenkins, O'Brien and Daniels had discussed this world.

There's more evolution in season two as the mystery of what happened to all the StarCrossed "experiencers" continues to unfold, there's insurrection in the alien ranks, plus two new characters join the weirdness: FBI agent Alex Foster (Nasim Pedrad) and Eric the Cube, a new alien boss who might be, evolutionarily speaking, more advanced than the reptilians and who immediately has a disdain for Jeff the Grey (which should be season-long fodder for Jeff fans).

Delightful, under-the-radar and a real treasure, People of Earth is a series you should seek out.

Created and written by: David Jenkins.

Cast: Wyatt Cenac, Ana Gasteyer, Michael Cassidy, Luka Jones, Oscar Nunez, Alice Wetterlund, H. Jon Benjamin, Brian Huskey, Nancy Lnehan, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Bjorn Gustafsson, Tracee Chimo, Debra McCabe, Nasim Pedrad.

Executive producers: Conan O'Brien, Greg Daniels, David Jenkins, Norm Hiscock

Mondays, 10:30 p.m., TBS