Movie Review: Shades of “Hitchhiker’s Guide” and “Red Dwarf,” Britcom “We Are Not Alone” Manages a Chuckle

Stumbling across this lightly-amusing comedy on Roku, there are certain “truths” that are, as Mr. Jefferson would have noted, “self-evident.”

“We Are Not Alone” plays like a sitcom pilot, which it almost certainly is, a 90 minute set up for a series about life under alien occupation.

And the screenwriters must have watched Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and it’s dorkier descendent, “Red Dwarf,” and adored them. It looks and plays like a tonier, modern production values ’80s Britcom, a fish-out-of-water tale of brusque, occupying aliens and the unlikely human they use as their intermediary in occupying Brexittania, the Jolly Olde land of wordplay, interspecies sex jokes and the like.

But the fascinating subtext to all this is colonialism. Yes, those master colonizers, cultural-appropriators and inventors and popularizers or the world’s greatest racial slurs see what it’s like to be occupied by a “superior” race, one that isn’t really so superior after all.

It begins almost precisely like “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” in the Seven Bells pub in tiny Clitheroe, where assistant local planner Stewart (Declan Baxter) is resisting efforts by his more ambitious mate (Dane Baptiste) to apply for a promotion.

“Stew” is the classic “Keep my head down” functionary, timid and content to put in his hours and get by. All that changes when they stroll outside, missing TV reports about what’s just starting, and mate Jordan is disintegrated when a spherical probe plunges to Earth.

“We come in peace,” it beams in friendly lit-up letters across its surface.

Aliens are invading — hovering airships, patrolling drones, soldiers in “Battlestar Galactica” armor, the works.

Weeks later, the shock is still with one and all, the “We are Not Alone” headlines still lingering on the last newspaper’s front page.

The Internet is gone. You can’t drive your Mini Cooper because attempting to start it produces a shock. And the aliens, whom the locals have taken to calling “Blue Man Group” or “Smurfs,” have simply taken over.

“Under New Management.”

Showing up for work, Stew is appalled that the officious, somewhat bumbling blue-faced/blue-wigged Tories have decided to run Occupied Britain from Clitheroe, which, let’s face it, is A), not “LON-DON,” B) is a nevertheless a real British town and C), one with a funny name calling to mind a sex organ.

“You can’t run the country from here!” Stewart protests. But he’d best keep his head about him. Everybody over him on the local, national and global totem pole is “unavailable,” having been shoved out of an airlock from the orbiting death disc circling the planet.

The aliens adapt the accent and language of whatever “sector” they’re governing — China, Russia, US. Here, they’re “Yes, Minister” fussbudget-o-crats fighting turf wars with the Russian occupiers, the Chinese occupation zone, the Americas, etc. And they have a lot of questions.

“Is there anything else we should know?”

“You INVADED our planet!” “ARRIVED. And we were ‘invited.”

That’s the nature of a lot of the conversations, the “new management” trying to figure out what “money” is and how to run an “economy,” Stewart tamping down his outrage as he’s given a “consultant” job — one where termination might mean “termination.” He’s also given a big house and a lot of “colored paper” (money) for selling out his species. But every now and then, he can’t help but blurt out his true feelings.

“You blew up NEW ZEALAND!”

“Only the edges.”

Still, the new overlords aren’t rocket scientists or even very observant sociologists. They have advanced weapons, which can’t fully charge on the “grid” of their new colony. The sector premiere (Vicki Pepperdine), her even-more-authoritarian subcommander (Mike Wozniak) and bumbling third in command (Joe Thomas) may have all the tech, holograms, and may take on British-ish names — “Traytor,” “GOR-DAN” and “Greggs” — but they’re going to need help getting local compliance.

Which is where Stew comes in.

But when the fetching local barmaid (Georgia May Foote) gives him the eye for the first time ever, he should smell a rat. The AAA, “Anti-Alien Alliance,” needs his help to “steal the plans” and set their “Independence Day/Star Wars, Episode IV” blow-up-the-spaceship-and-liberate-themselves plan in motion.

The connections to past Brit-TV glories give the film/pilot a charmingly dated feel. Maybe the best running gag in it is cribbed from “The IT Crowd.” There’s a surly, back-talking IT woman for Clitheroe (ahem). Hodge (Evelyn Mok) is a hoot, insulting the “Smurfs” to their faces because these “W*nkers” can’t get the wifi up on their own, restart the Internet and bend it to their messaging or become “liked” enough to be allowed to rule without her.

“You’re not on Krypton any more, Dude.”

The point-of-view of the series jabs at colonialism with a patronizing “for your own good” ethos. The Gu’Uns came here because they needed a new home planet. They can’t abide these humans, who have “no concept of collective responsibility.” They find us “simple” yet “utterly baffling,” not having the good sense to stop using “internal combustion engines” which are “poisoning the atmosphere” and warming the planet.

The colonizers know best, you know.

The AAA folks, one of whom is a Thatcherite fanatic government defense minister in hiding, screech “FREEDOM” but seem hellbent on victory or mass extinction as a strategy. Which Stew isn’t sold on.

The film is cute and just funny, edgy and smart enough to get by, “Galaxy Quest-lite,” I’d say. The series it might portend shows promise, even if it isn’t quite up to “Spaced,” its “Shaun of the Dead” spinoff, or “The IT Crowd.” Not yet, and not going by this, anyway.

Rating: PG-13ish

Cast: Declan Baxter, Vicki Pepperdine, Mike Wozniak, Georgia May Foote, Laurence Rickard and Bruce MacKinnon

Credits: Directed by Fergal Costello, scripted by Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond. A UKTV production on Roku.

Running time: 1:31


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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