A segment sprung or salvaged from the late animated sketch show "TripTank," "Jeff & Some Aliens" has successfully been magnified to sitcom size. It premieres in its new big form Wednesday on Comedy Central.
Co-created by Sean Donnelly and Alessandro Minoli, it features Brett Gelman as Jeff, who lives in a tumble-down tract house and has a trio of aliens for roommates, in the small but notable tradition of "My Favorite Martian," "Alf" and "Mork & Mindy."
All voiced by Minoli, the aliens are broadly speaking a Moe, a Larry and a Joe: tough, sensitive, dumb. (They look a little the way "sea monkeys" used to be pictured on the back of comic books, except for the briefs they wear, which somehow make them look more rather than less naked). Envoys from the Galactic Council, they've come to learn whether the planet should be saved or destroyed, and to that end are studying Jeff, a serial loser in permanently stained clothing, who has been determined to be the world's most average human.
He seems at least a little bit below average, frankly - hopefully - but if his actions are usually self-defeating, his impulses are basically good. And if the humor is often gross or violent or sexually inappropriate in ways that surely would make some viewers uncomfortable - I am not always at ease on its side of the line myself - its conclusions are conventionally moral. The harm Jeff does is almost entirely to himself, and he does some good in the bargain.
The series has temperamental ties to other Comedy Central comedies of bad behavior - "Workaholics," "Idiotsitter" and "Another Period" - and owes something ultimately to the unsettling and widely influential Adult Swim aesthetic. Indeed, in a world that currently contains "Rick and Morty," "Bob's Burgers," "Bojack Horseman," "Animals" and "Son of Zorn," not to mention the venerable "South Park" and "The Simpsons," nothing in "Jeff & Some Aliens" looks particularly radical or ground-breaking.
Still, the three episodes I've seen are well plotted and performed. The animation smartens the look of the "TripTank" original without sacrificing its baseline crudeness - that's a good thing - and the cast includes such mainstream talents as Alicia Silverstone, Malcolm McDowell and Richard Kind, as Jeff's father, a sweet soul who calls his son "honey." ("Honey, on a scale from 1 to 10, how much do you like jazz?")
If the situations are familiar sitcom starters - taking a date to a restaurant you can't pay for, say, or pretending to be someone you are not equipped to pretend to be - the complications have a tinge of the horror story about them. You might end up trading your life energy, Dorian Gray-style, to impress your old girlfriend, or murdering an old lady after spitting on her, according to an alien tradition, in order to balance some cosmic scales and keep humanity from "boil(ing) in a pool of liquefied flesh."
Yet things tend to work out here. It's a dark comedy, but not an entirely hopeless one.