Moderator: Chief Couch Potato Kylie
Who: “3rd Rock from the Sun,” a situation comedy that aired on NBC from 1996 to 2001.
What: Created by Bonnie and Terry Turner, the show depicts four extraterrestrials who are on an expedition to Earth, which they consider to be a very insignificant planet, and who pose as a human family to observe the behavior of human beings.
“3rd Rock” revolves around an extraterrestrial research expedition attempting to live as a normal human family in the fictional city of Rutherford, Ohio, said to be outside of Cleveland, where they live in an attic apartment. Humor is principally derived from the aliens’ attempts to study human society and, because they live as humans themselves while on Earth, to understand the human condition. In later episodes, they are more accustomed to Earth and often are more interested in their human lives than in their mission.
Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin) is a professor of anthropology at (fictional) Pendelton State University, and many of the issues with which the four aliens struggle stem from her work and observations. Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), the High Commander and leader of the expedition, is the family provider as a physics professor at Pendelton (with Ian Lithgow, John Lithgow’s oldest son, playing one of his less successful students). Information officer and oldest member of the crew Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been given the body of a teenager and is forced to enroll in high school (later college), leaving security officer Sally (Kristen Johnston) and “the one with the transmitter in his head,” Harry (French Stewart) to spend their lives as 20-somethings hanging out at home and bouncing through short-term jobs. The family often communicates through Harry with their off-world (and usually unseen) boss, the Big Giant Head, who when he finally visits Earth, appears in the body of William Shatner.
When: The show aired for six seasons, from 1996 to 2001, on NBC.
Where: The show is primarily set in fictional Rutherford, Ohio.
Why: Listen to the podcast episode for the panelists’ individual stories on how they found 3rd Rock from the Sun.
How – as in How Much Do We Love this Show?!
Once upon a time, Netflix hosted some classic sitcoms to ingest and to consume on a whim, as one does while on Netflix. Once upon a time, Netflix changed its library (on an annoyingly monthly basis), and many of those sitcoms left the streaming service. During one such brief window of time between content shuffles, the Chief CP chanced upon the program du jour and used said chance to rediscover 3rd Rock, which, of course, rendered the show eligible to be the next CPU! “Looking Back” candidate. While finding new appreciation for the zany antics of the four main characters and of, arguably, Dr. Albright, I wondered if others would care to look back at a show that was more often than not over the top, thanks to the daring comedic performance of Lithgow, while remaining insightful about the human condition in a somewhat timeless way, using the perspective of “other” or “the naive” to comment upon mundane human foibles.
Fortunately, a medium sized panel of new and old voices at CPU! – including frequent panelist Nick, “Looking Back” expert Michael, and brand new panelist Penny – were willing to huddle up in our allegedly too small, allegedly attic, alleged apartment to do just that. Thus, in this current “Look Back,” we reminisce about the show that cemented John Lithgow’s legacy/storied career within the annals of pop culture; revived the career of original Not for Primetime Player Jane Curtin; and launched the career of indie actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in addition to providing a veritable playground for able character actors like Kristen Johnston, French Stewart, and Wayne Knight in which to have fun and freedom with this spacey tale. We talk about the whimsical, the farcical, and the out of this world quality of the theatrical 3rd Rock, an unusual sitcom entry for the late 90s pastiche, in that it hearkened back to gimmicky comedies of yesteryear like Alf or Bewitched. We also offer our own appreciation for a sitcom that has managed to stay both funny and relevant, despite the fact that it is approximately twenty years old.
This podcast was recorded in June 2017, and there are, without question, MAJOR SPOILERS, as we cover major plot points and comedic situations throughout the six seasons of 3rd Rock from the Sun. Listen at your own risk, and let us know what you think by commenting below!
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Remember, new episodes and blog posts are published weekly! Next Wednesday, our American Horror Story Series panel returns (we hope! we strive! take two!) to talk the cable horror anthology series with a newly expanded panel, a new moderator (who moderated on this series panel before), and a new, detailed examination of the latest and arguably most terrifying AHS chapter to date, subtitled “Roanoke.” Stay tuned!
3rd Rock does not typically make “Best Of” television lists nor does it merit a solid ranking from most of the CPU! panelists in this episode with the exception of one. Yet, all of the panelists would recommend this hammy and cheesy comedy to anyone looking to laugh. The common sentiment: the humor holds up, thanks in no small part to Lithgow’s otherworldly performance as the needy but knowing High Commander Dick, and remains timely and relevant, even by today’s questionably wavering standards. The execution is not without occasional flaws, but all panelists agree that laughs ensue regularly, and some of the nerdier panelists highlight Easter Eggs for science fiction fans sprinkled throughout the episodes. In addition, the chemistry of the four main actors playing family Solomon is solid, and the supporting actors, particularly Jane Curtin, may be the unsung heroes of the entire piece, offering priceless reactions to the four awkward but lovable aliens in disguise. Our 3rd Rock panel recommends this sitcom most to those who appreciate theatrical acting – as it is used to great effect in this sitcom space – and to those who enjoy “Must See TV” from the past. Though it may not trump more solid Peacock offerings from the era, such as Seinfeld or Friends, the panel believes that anyone could enjoy 3rd Rock from the Sun, even if the show might seem like a time capsule of the 90s at choice intervals. Unfortunately, this sitcom is not available to stream on any of the typical sites; it can be purchased to stream (Prime notwithstanding) at Amazon.com. Still, if laughs are what you’re looking for, 3rd Rock may very well be worth some monetary investment – especially the episodes with the erstwhile Captain Kirk – but you don’t have to take our word for it.