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The Aliens Next Door

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My Favorite Martian (1963-1966)
Bill Bixby and Ray Walston

Bill Bixby and Ray Walston in My Favorite Martian.

CBS

The alien family next door is a durable high concept, easy to milk for the fish-out-of-water comedy where somebody outlandish finds the humdrum excitingly peculiar, and who try desperately to seem ordinary despite their patchwork understanding of human customs, beliefs, and farm equipment. ABC is trying it again with the new sitcom The Neighbors, prompting critics to wonder is the premise is trite right out of the gate. Does this concept really work? Let's look back at some prior iterations.

My Favorite Martian presented one version of the aliens-next-door idea: an alien with an aloof and superior attitude; the desperate efforts to make Uncle Martin (Ray Walston) seem normal fall to a mediator, Tim (Bill Bixby), who smooths over everything bizarre that happens as a result of Martin's presence on Earth.

My Favorite Martian is of a piece with other mid-century classic series like I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and Mister Ed in positing a magical outsider who almost fits it with the humans paired with a conformity-obsessed everyman who tamps down the edges. Later takes on this premise include Mork & Mindy, where Robin Williams's Mork is quite unable to seem normal, and his human friend has her work cut out for her straightening everything out. What makes this possible is another element endemic to this version of the idea: the alien's endearing strangeness seeds a deep-seated affection that makes the human friend want to help the visitor out of all those jams.

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