THE ALIENS

THE ALIENS are among us in E4’s new sci-fi se­ries. Stephen Kelly checks the cre­ator’s cre­den­tials

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

It’s the new Mis­fits! Kinda. Be­hold E4’ s new sci- fi se­ries.

We were keen that the show felt very grounded in re­al­ity

ccord­ing to Greek mythol­ogy, the great walls of Troy were strong enough to with­stand a 10- year siege. But what if in­stead of keep­ing in­vaders out, those walls were trap­ping peo­ple in­side? And what if those peo­ple weren’t ac­tu­ally peo­ple at all? Such is The Aliens, the new com­edy- drama from E4 that reimag­ines Bri­tain as a coun­try of seg­re­ga­tion: where ex­trater­res­tri­als, 40 years after crash­ing off the coast of North Wales, have been swept away to “Troy”, a grim, walled- off slum that is set in the UK, but is be­ing filmed to­day in Sofia, Bul­garia.

“There was ex­cite­ment when they crashed here and then there was mass- dis­il­lu­sion,” says Fintan Ryan, the show’s writer. “For a time, they were al­lowed to go wher­ever they wanted, but wher­ever they went there would be trou­ble. They’re built for crime, you see – their DNA isn’t trace­able, their hair is smok­able. So then they get con­cen­trated into one spot be­cause the Home Sec­re­tary says, ‘ This is crazy, there’s crime wher­ever they go.’ So the big ques­tion is: are they vic­tims of prej­u­dice or are they just like that?”

The idea for the show orig­i­nally came from Clerken­well Films’ Pe­tra Fried and Matt Jarvis, ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers of E4’ s fel­low sci- fi com­edy- drama Mis­fits. “We were look­ing for an­other con­tem­po­rary, Bri­tish spin on genre,” says Jarvis, “and we thought that there was lots of alien mythol­ogy in pop­u­lar cul­ture to play with, espe­cially the idea of ‘ aliens liv­ing among us’.”

ex­trater­res­trial mis­fits

Pitch­ing the show as more dra­matic than

Mis­fits – “a ‘ drama- with- funny- bits’” – they ap­proached Ryan, an Ir­ish writer whose TV cred­its in­clude Hus­tle, Rev and In The Flesh. “They came to me with the idea of aliens and a guard who works on the bor­der be­tween the hu­man and alien worlds. I think we both had an idea in our heads of Toon­town in Who

Framed Roger Rab­bit. That thing where you go to a place where it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent.” For some, the more ob­vi­ous com­par­i­son is

Dis­trict 9, the 2009 fea­ture film de­but of di­rec­tor Neill Blomkamp. It also de­picts aliens stranded on Earth, forced to live in the shanty towns of Jo­han­nes­burg – Blomkamp’s take on South African apartheid.

“In Dis­trict 9 there’s a mas­sive ghetto with aliens and in The Aliens there is a mas­sive ghetto with aliens – I can’t deny that. But I didn’t ac­tively think, ‘ We have to make it dif­fer­ent to Dis­trict 9’, be­cause it is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. In [ The Aliens], it’s al­most a joke that they’re the same as us. It’s not about dif­fer­ence or dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ryan, The Aliens is per­haps not the bleed­ing heart al­le­gory that you might ex­pect, in­sist­ing that the show’s timely par­al­lel to im­mi­gra­tion and refugees sells short an un­flinch­ing take on prej­u­dice.

“The con­ceit in the show is that there’s this mas­sive un­ques­tioned prej­u­dice against aliens. We even ended up not writ­ing a lib­eral voice for the hu­man side – even a low- level apolo­getic for them. Lewis [ the pro­tag­o­nist played by Michael Socha] is more that guy.

“The idea was that you owed them noth­ing be­cause they came from some­where else. You don’t owe them the Bri­tish Em­pire, or the fact that they’re hu­mans just like you and me. They can be ob­jects of ev­ery­one’s prej­u­dice, and they be­have dis­grace­fully in re­turn. It’s the thing that we keep do­ing in or­der not to make it any kind of polemic. They’re not vic­tim- vic­tims. It’s sup­posed to be about if you had a group that were sub­ject to the ul­ti­mate level of prej­u­dice, what would hap­pen?” The an­swer is des­per­a­tion – and crime. For

The Aliens is less con­cerned with the wider is­sues, and in­stead roots its story in the self- con­tained com­mu­nity of Troy, a world within a world that – as SFX sees on set to­day – is not just dirty and poor but alive, vi­brant and odd. “De­spite its dark un­der­belly, it feels like an ex­cit­ing place to es­cape to,” says Jarvis, who cites ref­er­ences such as Blade Run­ner and

Go­mor­rah. Tak­ing their nick­name from ’ 70s alien sit­com Mork & Mindy, to­day the streets are lined with “morks” in shell- suits, get­ting high off of dish­washer tablets, walk­ing past make- shift tents and stalls sell­ing sec­ond- hand scrap. And there’s hair ev­ery­where – Troy’s most valu­able ex­port.

“There’s a drug lord [ Fa­bien, played by Trys­tan Grav­elle] in charge,” says Ryan. “Be­cause the aliens’ hair, if hu­mans smoke it, is a drug. So there’s an in­dus­try of sell­ing hair and get­ting that out [ to hu­mans] by smug­gling it across a check­point. It’s a sys­tem of crime. Some peo­ple go to work on the hu­man side – low- paid, of course. They can’t sell their hair be­cause it gets sprayed at check point. There’s also an entertainment in­dus­try within Troy which is in the first episode, with the clubs be­ing run by Fa­bien. That whole world is con­trolled by crim­i­nals.”

Ex­plor­ing this weird world for the first time is the afore­men­tioned hu­man Lewis ( Michael Socha), a check­point of­fi­cer who works on the bor­der be­tween two worlds. Apt, given that he soon finds out that he’s half- alien him­self.

“Just be­fore the wall went up his mum had an af­fair with an alien,” ex­plains Ryan. “So a lot of the se­ries is him find­ing out that his real dad

is this alien gang­ster, and also fall­ing in love with an alien girl. It’s that no­tion of, ‘ Which way is your des­tiny?’

“At the be­gin­ning he’s just as anti- alien as ev­ery­one else,” says Socha, best known for roles in This Is Eng­land and Be­ing Hu­man. “Then he finds out he’s half- alien and he’s dis­gusted with him­self. We all cling on to a cer­tain group for self- worth rea­sons, so we’re not os­tracised and cast out. I think that’s the only rea­son he does what he does on the hu­man side any­way. But then he goes to Troy and his eyes are open.”

That “alien girl” Ryan men­tions is Li­ly­hot, played by the writer and star of E4 sit­com

Chew­ing Gum, Michaela Coel. We’re first in­tro­duced to her as a cam­girl, who the lonely Lewis, not know­ing she’s an alien, be­comes in­fat­u­ated with. When Lewis ac­tu­ally meets her, how­ever, he finds that she has big­ger am­bi­tions: to play the gangs of Troy against each other – un­til she’s the last one stand­ing.

“She’s very cold and cal­cu­lat­ing,” says Coel. “She’s grown up in a very poor area and has learnt to dis­as­so­ci­ate feel­ings and em­pa­thy to get to where she wants. But Lewis is the one that starts to bring out her ca­pac­ity to love.”

“With her,” adds Ryan, “a lot of the strug­gle was get­ting away with the femme fatale thing, that stock noir fig­ure. I think we pulled it off. We don’t go too deep into her back­story, but she has been wronged. Her plan is to be Queen of Troy, and in this world noth­ing else will do. But her big thing is to sup­press her feel­ings for Lewis so she can get on with be­com­ing a queen.”

But Li­ly­hot isn’t the only one with gangland as­pi­ra­tions. Lewis’s bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther An­toine ( Michael Smi­ley), an im­pris­oned gang­ster, is also look­ing to oust Fa­bien and re­turn to his for­mer role as king.

“When An­toine got banged up there was a bur­geon­ing new society within the ghetto,” says Smi­ley, “but since he’s been away, it’s been driven by Fa­bien’s drugs. He’s come back to re­bal­ance it slightly... He’s not nec­es­sar­ily a free­dom fighter but he’s not nec­es­sar­ily a gang­ster ei­ther.”

this is gonna hurt…

Be­cause of those such as Lily and An­toine, Lewis gets dragged into a gang war that sees him, “wit­ness­ing murders, rob­beries and all the shit he shouldn’t be do­ing.” Need­less to say, it gets pretty vi­o­lent.

“I wanted to be in a kind of Shane Mead­ows, Coen broth­ers kind of place,” says Ryan, “where the com­edy is funny but the vi­o­lence is real and felt. I think the vi­o­lence should just be aw­ful when it’s aw­ful.”

“We were keen that the show felt very grounded in re­al­ity,” chips in Jarvis, “that it felt like it could hap­pen in Bri­tain to­day. Fintan pulled back on many of the height­ened sci- fi el­e­ments and ideas that didn’t feel ‘ real’. [ The Aliens] is much closer in story and tone to, say,

Break­ing Bad than Star Trek.” Michael Smi­ley has an equally su­perla­tive com­par­i­son: “I think that what The Aliens does is it draws you in to that uni­verse and makes you be­lieve in it. When I watched The Wire, I fell in love with Bal­ti­more. Not the city of Bal­ti­more but the story – be­cause The Wire is about the city of Bal­ti­more and I wanted more of that. So hope­fully Troy will be able to do it on that level, as in you can park up your ex­pec­ta­tions and just let the story be told. The art of sto­ry­telling is very im­por­tant.”

Jim How­ick, Michael Socha and Michaela Coel step onto the streets of fire. Ash­ley Wal­ters has a knife. A big knife. Looks like such a nice chap.

This role is a bit of a de­par­ture from Mr Sel­fridge for Trys­tan Grav­elle. Michael Smi­ley ( left) is also pack­ing heat. “I’m in a worse spot than I was in Be­ing Hu­man!”

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