If you were to ask what my favorite science fiction show is, sometimes I wish it could be something respectable, like ‘Battlestar Galactica’, or ‘Star Trek’. The simple truth of the matter, though, is that my favorite show is, was, and will always be ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’. Weird, right?
After all, it’s barely science fiction. It’s just a show about four aliens (known as the Solomon family) trying to pass as humans in Rutherford, Ohio, as they research the planet, and doing a hilariously bad job of it.
True, when you generally think of science fiction, it’s in terms of what the future holds. It’s ‘Terminator‘, ‘War of the Worlds’, and ‘Star Trek’. It’s about hope or despair, and the good stuff generally has both. Four people faking a family in Ohio really shouldn’t count as science fiction, especially when you can watch over five episodes without them even mentioning the whole “we’re on a mission to research Earth” premise, but it does. I will maintain it is science fiction until my dying day, and what’s more, the best kind of sci-fi.
‘3rd Rock’ is science fiction where it counts, and I don’t mean it’s because it’s about aliens. No, ‘3rd Rock’ is about using a common sci-fi trope in order to contest concepts we think are a given. It doesn’t even matter how mind-blowingly obvious it is sometimes, if only because it’s so hilarious.
Using the concept of aliens trying to pass on Earth, the show forces the audience to ask questions –along with the protagonists– about what it means to be human, a citizen, a boyfriend, a teenager, a woman, etc… Sure, it’s couched in jokes, but the questions are still there.
Let’s take my favorite episode, “Red, White & Dick” (6×08). In the episode, the Solomon family try to understand American patriotism. After reading that Americans believe that everyone is created equal in the Declaration of Independence, they establish a commune that quickly falls to fascism when they appoint Harry to be in charge of equality.
This is what good science fiction is supposed to do. It takes something as standard as “the alien”, and uses it as a lens to analyze everything we take for granted. All the truly good science fiction do that, from Asimov to ‘Star Trek’. And ‘3rd Rock’ does it beautifully. Better yet, it does it hilariously.
Interested in watching Tommy, Dick, Harry, and Sally Solomon discover what it is to be human in Ohio? Well, I’ve got good news for you. This amazing series has been released on DVD for a very reasonable price (around $5 a season) on Amazon.
‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ ran on NBC from 1996-2001 and starred John Lithgow, Kristen Johnson, French Stewart and a pre-Dark Knight Joseph Gordon-Levitt.