There’s nothing large about the satisfying and humane “People of Earth,” except the distance its alien characters have traveled to this planet full of mixed-up humans. It’s not a show that traffics in big moves or over-the-top jokes, but it’s all the more enjoyable for its devotion to dry, character-driven comedy.
And despite being about a bunch of people who think they’re alien abductees — and who found out in Season 1 that they actually have unwillingly spent time with extraterrestrials — the use of the word “humane” isn’t incorrect. Like “Superstore,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — all shows on the resume of Greg Daniels, one of the TBS comedy’s executive producers — “People of Earth” typically views its characters through a warmly bemused lens. As I noted in my review of the first season, “People of Earth” recalls episodes of “The X-Files” that successfully united comedic and bittersweet modes (without the try-hard flop sweat that sometimes pervaded the Fox drama’s lighter outings).
Whether they have scaly lizard skin, look like elven refugees from “Lord of the Rings,” or are working stiffs in Beacon, N.Y., all the characters are relatably misguided and simply looking for somewhere to belong. Over the course of its first season, “People of Earth” proved to be reliably well-made and amusing as it explored its characters’ attempts to find meaning and real connections. The alien probing they think they experienced sent them to a support group that meets in a Beacon church, but they all want more answers — and more out of life — than just the confirmation that something odd and unsettling happened to them.
Now that the expansive array of characters are fairly well-defined, “People of Earth” has even more gentle fun expanding their dilemmas in Season 2. It also happens to be the rare “aliens among us” show with a reasonably sturdy mythology, which the show generally uses most effectively as an opportunity to play around with workplace politics.
The influence of “The Office” (a show Daniels and cast member Oscar Nunez were both part of) is most often seen among the bickering aliens who were sent to Earth to experiment on humans, for reasons that aren’t necessarily even clear to the non-Earthlings. But the front-line workers do what the bosses want them to, and Ken Hall, who plays a grey alien named Jeff, consistently does great work conveying his put-upon character’s frustration and bitterness. Hall’s nuanced and consistently witty performance is all the more impressive when you think about the fact that it takes place behind a very large mask that makes Jeff look like a refugee from an “X-Files” episode.
Season 1 largely revolved around the quest of Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac), who went to Beacon to write about the abductee support group, only to have a very strange set of experiences himself. Ozzie’s pragmatism still helps ground the show in a low-key and thoughtful way, but his journey is no longer quite as central to the story. That said, Cenac’s laconic line delivery and watchful wariness is always entertaining — and illuminating, when things get a bit more serious.
But this year, “People of Earth” smartly expands on the histories of all of the alien “experiencers,” and Jeff and his lovelorn co-worker Don (Bjorn Gustafsson) face new challenges from their superiors as well.
There may be one or two too many storylines in Season 2 (Nunez and Tracee Chimo’s romantic storyline feels a little thin, for example), but the cast has gelled extremely well. Ana Gasteyer is consistently razor-sharp as the leader of the support group, and Gustafsson and Michael Cassidy, who plays a rogue alien with lizard skin under his regular-bro exterior, never fail to deftly make the most of their scenes. As an FBI agent who begins to investigate a key character, Nasim Pedrad fits right in to the show’s array of slightly obsessive characters. Like everyone else in Beacon, she has messed up in the past and becomes certain that solving a mystery there will allow her to move forward with her life.
Even more so than last year, the entire cast has dialed in to the DNA of the storytelling, which is much more about outsiders seeking acceptance and affection than about aliens taking over the world. It’s heartening to see so many risk-taking and tonally unusual half-hours on the TV scene at the moment. But “People of Earth” is TV comfort food of the most enjoyable sort. It may not be out of this world, but it’s consistently and reliably good. We should thank our lucky stars.