Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Top Ten 3rd Rock From the Sun Episodes

I miss "3rd Rock From the Sun." It was the last sitcom of the '90s that I really loved, where each and every member of the ensemble was a joy, and I never missed an episode if I could help it. More silliness than science-fiction, it nevertheless appealed to the geek in me, and certainly the alienated teenager in me that didn't feel quite like she was cut out to be part of the human race for a few years. Below are a sampling of fondly remembered episodes, unranked and ordered by airdate. As usual, I will cheat and count two-parters as single entries - and there are a lot of them this time. It's been at least a decade since I've watched any of the episodes, but I'm pretty confident about these picks. Once I started reading over synopses, there wasn't an episode I didn't remember.

"Dick's First Birthday" - Or as I remember it, the one with Dick in the amazing tight leather pants. A big part of why the series worked was the performance of John Lithgow as the High Commander Dick Solomon, and this episode is the reason why I committed to becoming a regular viewer. It's so rare to find a performer so committed to such a ridiculous performance, and I loved every second.

"Body & Soul & Dick" - Dick is recruited to deliver the eulogy for a colleague who everyone hated, prompting all the Solomons to think about their own mortality. I greatly preferred the show's earlier seasons because they tried more earnestly to examine the big questions about the human condition. They weren't always successful, and some attempts were downright cringeworthy, but this was one of the good ones.

"Dick Like Me" - The aliens exploring race and ethnicity could have been a total misfire, but the writing manages to strike a balance between irreverence and pointed commentary, and the actors sell it. There are lots of great little character moments too - Harry dancing, Nina's exasperation, and each Solomon's reaction to being declared Jewish. Alas, later episodes returning to the topic weren't nearly as successful.

"See Dick Continue to Run" - The second season opened with two episodes devoted to my favorite character in the entire series run: Evil Dick, who replaced regular Dick in the first season finale cliffhanger. Evil Dick had Lithgow was firing on all cylinders, smarmily wooing Professor Albright, subjugating the other aliens, and being an all around... well... Evil Dick. Lithgow won the Emmy a few days before this first aired and famously ended his speech by quoting this episode: "God bless television!"

"Fourth and Dick" - A good example of the show's formula working at its best. Dick dismisses homecoming activities as fuss and nonsense, only to be completely swept up in school spirit by the end of the episode. The other aliens have their own subplots, and everyone comes together at the end to discuss what they've learned. In this case, all the parts work, even the completely unrelated business with Tommy crushing on a choir teacher and Sally befriending Nina.

"Jolly Old St. Dick" - It might be because it's so close ot the holidays, but I love the way that the Solomons take on the madness of Christmas, especially the retail horror and gift-giving side of things. Dick of course plays the Scrooge, who learns to embrace the season after bah-humbing his way through most of the episode. I especially enjoy some of the bits with his students, who were a minor but always amusing part of the show.

"A Nightmare on Dick Street" - This was heavily promoted as a special two-parter with sequences presented in 3D. Even without the gimmick though, I thought this was lots of fun. The aliens have dreams for the first time, which they naturally panic and overreact to. We get to see the dreams too - neat little jaunts into the surreal. My favorite is Harry's musical number, written and co-starring Randy Newman.

"36! 24! 36! Dick!" - The Superbowl two-parter where a group of highly attractive newcomers, all played by supermodels, come to Rutherford and quickly have all the men in town entranced. Of course, they're a rival alien invasion force. The guest stars are well utilized, Sally gets one of her funniest turns when she plays infiltrator, and who knew that Cindy Crawford and French Stewart would have actual chemistry with each other?

"Dick's Big Giant Headache" - One of the greatest casting coups of all time is William Shatner as the Big Giant Head. Because of course he is. Shatner is a great sport, playing a caricature of himself as a boozing, womanizing egomaniac who sweeps Vicki Dubcek off her feet, to Harry's consternation. It's no wonder he made multiple return visits to Earth to compound the havoc in later seasons. Also, there's the epic "Twilight Zone" in-joke.

"The Loud Solomon Family: A Dickumentary" - A spoof on the "An American Family" docu-series, which uncovered the dysfunctions in an average family's lives. When they discover they're the subject of Professor Albright's project, the Solomons let the attention go to their heads, and make up all sorts of shocking revelations to generate more drama. This one was before its time, as reality TV hadn't really taken off yet, but boy did it stay relevant.

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