Something Is Out There
Created by Frank Lupo
Produced by Invader Productions, Inc. (US), Hoyts Productions (AUS)
Aired on NBC for a mini-series and 1 season (8 episodes, 2 originally unaired) from October 21 – December 9, 1988
Joe Cortese as Jack Breslin
Maryam D’Abo as Ta’Ra
George Dzundza as Frank Dileo
Gregory Sierra as Victor Maldonado
Kim Delaney as Mandy Estabrook
Jack Breslin is a street cop who, upon investigating a series of unexplained murders, stumbles on Ta’ra, a female humanoid space alien from an orbiting prison starship, who is the only one that knows who or what is committing the murders. She reveals to Jack that she was a medical technician that survived an attack from an inmate alien known as a “Xenomorph” who killed her crew before escaping to Earth. They team up to stop the rogue alien by using Jack’s street smarts and Ta’Ra’s advanced alien technology. They subdue the Xenomorph, but in doing so, Ta’Ra is left stranded on Earth. Now with no means of transporting off the planet, she helps Jack solve unusual cases until they can find a way to get her back to her home planet.
The ongoing series, post the miniseries, became a buddy cop show, a sort of precursor to series like The X-Files or Alien Nation, where every week the leads solve cases, but with the partner dynamics of an uptight and cynically brash male ego set against that of a sophisticated and free spirited alien woman. Their chemistry is essentially the ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’ conceit taken to a partial literal extreme. The series had the potential to bring unique cases of supernatural or paranormal, with each week providing a platform for different types of stories and tones, ranging from Science fiction, to horror, to comedy.
Something is Out There began as a miniseries developed by veteran TV writer Frank Lupo, who at the same time had also been working on another genre series, Werewolf, which made the production of Something Is Out There a rushed endeavor. Despite the hasty production, the miniseries arrived on broadcast television a highly rated success, prompting the network to order 13 episodes for an ongoing series. This transition from miniseries to ongoing brought many changes to key elements of the production, elements that were vital to making the original miniseries a success. First off, the budget was cut significantly, which did not allow the special effects team to cross over. Therefore, the concept had to be tweaked to a smaller scale. The series also veered away from the higher costing science fiction elements to subdued earthbound cases, which caused audiences that expected to see more monster alien action to lose interest. The series drew poor ratings, and so the producers tried a return to form by trying to address the miniseries more often, and even reincorporated scenes from the miniseries into a new opening credit theme. The attempts failed, and the show was cancelled after producing 8 full episodes, with only 6 making it to air. The final two episodes were finally broadcast many years later through syndicated stations the SciFi Channel and USA network, respectively.
The strength of the series came from leads Joe Cortese and Maryam D’Abo, whose interactions with each other were entertainingly comical and sometimes endearing. Throughout the series the writers would, at times, challenge their dynamic with possible other romantic interests, which would spur jealousy out of the other person. Although the conflict would raise interesting developments, this aspect of their relationship was particularly confusing, as Jack Breslin would often introduce Ta’Ra as his out of town cousin.
The production of the series was notably downgraded from the miniseries quality, as it had lost the talents of make-up and special effects artists Rick Baker and John Dykstra. The series become typical of shows like the A-Team or The Incredible Hulk, where every week was a standalone adventure with no real overarching mythology. In some episodes, they would have Ta’ra use her telepathic abilities to help in the case of the week, other episodes would involve some kind of alien or supernatural MacGuffin to be investigated. The visual style of the series would vary depending on the focus of the episodes; one episode can be a comedy mystery thriller, while another can be conspiracy laced road trip, while yet another can play out like a slasher horror.
The miniseries is definitively Science fiction horror, taking narrative cues from films like Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and The Hidden, but presenting them on a TV budget. There were scenes on a space craft that looked on par with early Star Trek films, and there were great special effects that were very much ‘body horror’ with the Xenomorphic transformation. The story of Jack Breslin meeting Ta’ra is a bit contrived and clearly made to place a comical wedge between Jack and his girlfriend, who just also happens to be the police commissioner’s daughter, which just goes to show what kind of life Breslin was having before he met Ta’Ra. Those story elements did not carry over to the series, as Breslin no longer has a girlfriend, nor is he concerned with living up to the Commissioner’s expectations of him. He just lives with Ta’Ra and his talking parrot, and they have adventures together.
The series itself is episodic and offers a variety of flavors, none of which worked well enough in bringing in a mass audience, as the production was so generic. The problem with the series is that it had nothing particularly groundbreaking or compelling to make it worth the audience’s while. The episodes were too different from one another, with no set tone, and it was also marred by over exposition, because it couldn’t show much due to its low budget. The title Something Is Out There also didn’t help, because it really implies more of a horror theme than what the show seemed more to veer towards, which was police procedural cases with a bit of supernatural intrigue.
The highlights of the series were in episodes:
The Original Miniseries
The two part miniseries is really the best the series has to offer as it set up the dynamics of the main leads with very decent to excellent effects with some very effective science fiction action.
This episode is particularly interesting as it features, as an Arnold Schwarzenegger stand in, Brian Thompson (best known as the alien bounty hunter in The X-Files) in a role that was made to be a send up of the Terminator, with a visual style mimicking ‘Tech Noir.’ It’s ultimately cheesy, but worth a watch if you can find it.
The Night Visitor
This episode is a bit of a precursor to The X-Files, as it deals with government conspiracies, men in black, and alien abductions. It’s the closest thing to a mythology episode the series has done, as it dealt with the mythology of alien visitations, with an open ending that could’ve been picked up in a later episode, had the series continued.
After the series was cancelled, it could’ve been lost forever if not for syndication cable. The show appeared on the Sci Fi channel for a time during the late 1990’s, which sparked a hint of a cult interest, but not enough to warrant a full fledged home video release. This series as a whole doesn’t have much going for it that could be considered worthwhile by modern day standards, as the gender politics are narrow minded and the special effects and formulaic format are all very dated. The miniseries may deserve preservation on media of some kind someday, but not so much the ongoing series. The ongoing series is more of a curiosity of the time, and if it did ever make it to home video, it would be for those interested in the cheesy quality of television during the late 1980s.
Some notable credits:
Frank Lupo is probably best known for having created with Stephen J. Cannell popular television series Wiseguy, and The A-Team.
Joe Cortese may be familiar to modern audiences for his role in Its always Sunny in Philadelphia, in the episode “The gang dances their asses off”, where he plays Sal.
Maryam D’Abo is most recognized for her appearance as a featured Bond girl in the film The Living Daylights, and for her contributions to the book Bond Girls Are Forever: the Women of James Bond, as well as hosting the documentary of the same name.
Rick Baker is well known for his skills in make-up effects in such films as An American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, Men in Black, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, and so much more.
John Dykstra is best known for his work on the Star Wars films, Battlestar Galactica (1978), Spider-Man 2, and X-Men: First Class.
This series was never made available on home video in the United States.
There are videos uploaded of the miniseries in parts, as well as an episode of the ongoing series, that appears to have been recorded from a VHS tape (with commercials included). NBC promos and trailers are also available.