Armchair-dwelling viewers the world over should prepare to extend the hand of friendship to our new alien overlords this week as Falling Skies brings little green men back to our screens (FX, Tuesday at 9pm). But their arrival is nothing new. In truth aliens have been colonising our channels for years now with everything from pointy-eared Star Fleet officers to comic cosmonauts taking control of the humming lie generators that inhabit the corners of our living rooms.
TV fads come and go, you only need look at the recent trend in vampire series as a case in point. Thanks to its legion of teenage fans, TV execs leapt aboard the Twilight bandwagon commissioning a string of fangtastic shows like The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and to a lesser degree the upcoming Teen Wolf series (starting on Sky Living on Thursday). Like in any industry TV execs are keen to piggyback the public's preferences in search of profit, adapting to trends and fads in search of hit shows. But little green men aren't just a flash in the pan, a fleeting televisual tryst like vampires or superheroes (see Heroes, Smallville, No Ordinary Family and The Cape). They're an ongoing affair, a long term relationship that has seen an encyclopaedia of extra terrestrials make their way onto the small screen over the past half a century.
In Falling Skies aliens are an implacable enemy, an unknown force against which all of humanity must fight. It's a role they're ideally suited to and one which explains why they've been so widely employed by writers down the years. Aliens by their very nature are inherently unknowable, which makes them the ideal 'other', an aggressor which we can't understand let alone begin to sympathise with. It also makes them easier to despise. It would be bigotry to hate another human race, but not aliens, their otherworldliness transforms them into the ideal pantomime villain. There are examples of this scattered throughout recent TV history, from the Visitors in V and the Goa'uld in Stargate to the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica and the Borg in Star Trek.
But entertainment's extra terrestrials aren't all evil. In fact TV's alien invaders have come in all shapes and sizes, providing as much comic relief as they have cosmic destruction. One of the earliest examples of this was My Favorite Martian, from 1963, which featured a spaceman trying to disguise himself as human in contemporary Los Angeles. It was a torch picked up by the likes of Mork And Mindy--which saw Robin Williams Na-Nu Na-Nu his way into audience's hearts as the titular little green man--and a plot device that worked equally well for more contemporary hits like ALF and Third Rock From The Sun. Aliens have also been the stars of children's programmes like Ben 10 and My Parents Are Aliens and even taken on the mantle of heroic protagonist with characters like The Doctor (Doctor Who) and Spock (Star Trek) becoming icons in their own right.
So, as you can see, aliens are all around us and they're not likely to head home anytime soon. They're not a fad, a flash in the pan or a passing trend; but a part of the very make up of TV. A universally approachable concept that like cop shows or medical dramas can be re-booted, re-imagined and returned to time and time again for audiences the world over. And whilst spaceship shows are in the midst of an unprecedented decline you don't need to peer into The X Files to see that TV's obsession with aliens is here to stay.
Do you agree? What's your favourite alien show?