Sure, a lot of science fiction fans like aliens. Heck, I like aliens. But aliens are often the first thing that turns a new sci-fi viewer right back around to the door. Forehead wrinkles, contacts, skin paint, spots, false teeth - easily cheesy. A more gradual approach to introducing the outlandish has been what's roped viewers into things like Game of Thrones (that, and wanton sex and violence).
As a science fiction fan, I've got to ask the question: why are do so many "aliens" have to be so human? Why do we keep on making TV shows that have aliens that look so much like us?
I get that there are budgetary concerns. And CGI is only just getting to the point now that it's cheap enough to have weirder aliens at an affordable price. But let's run through some of the problems with humanoid aliens.
- It's incredibly unlikely that one, let alone several, alien life forms will evolve such similar height, weight, limb number, skeleton type, genital location, etc to humans. I'm glad that Defiance has some "giant" and "dwarf" aliens, and a glowing ball of energy alien, but the three primary races are human-norm. And everyone but the glowing energy balls has two arms, two legs, two eyes, one mouth, five fingers, etc.
- Alien "culture" often takes the place of actual character. Essentially, every member of an alien "race" (more on that term in a minute) is 99% a product of his/her/its imaginary culture rather than a thinking, feeling character. The best alien characters are those who are the product of their culture but also act as independent people - something we take for granted with human characters.
- There's a whole lot of alien racism. Think about it for a minute: all ___ of the ____ race has these characteristics. If we're not talking about aliens, that's a pretty shameful statement, so why is it so easy for science fiction writers to treat it casually? This isn't unique to sci-fi either; fantasy has the exact same problem. Have you ever heard of a fat elf? Why is there so much variety allowed and recognized among humans and so little among aliens?
- Language: everyone in the universe has somehow evolved languages that everyone can (physically) speak, with similar conceptual and grammatical rules? While I'd love to say that it's some sort of comment on evolutionary linguistics... it's not.
- And let's not forget the whole gender/species question. a) Why do all humanoid alien races have all the same gender characteristics? b) If we can reproduce with aliens, are we the same species? What?
It's not that I don't think there's a place for humanoid aliens. But so many other shows have gone there before that it begs the question of what new can Defiance bring to the table? Can it be more than a sum of parts gathered from other shows?
There are enough examples of doing stranger aliens, better, that Defiance seems a little lazy (Farscape did weirder, better, though there were a lot of humanoids there too). To me, the best, most inventive work on alien races came from a video game: Mass Effect had more interesting, more varied, and more variable alien life-forms and alien cultures than anything I've seen on the television. In addition, there's a hint as to why there might be so many bipeds in the ME world (a shared galactic ancestry, intermittently destroyed by #spoilers).
It comes down to this: if tomorrow aliens landed, and they had two arms, two legs, one head, five fingers, etc, I'd want to know why they look so human. It would be weird, and we would want to know why there was such a close resemblance. So why don't we apply the same rigor to our science fiction?
And why do we keep giving Julie Benz work?