3rd Rock from the Sun is an Emmy Award-winning American sitcom that aired from 1996 until 2001 on NBC. The show is about a group of extraterrestrial scientists on an expedition of what they consider to be the least important planet, Earth (the "3rd Rock" from the Sun), while posing as a human "family" of four, to observe human beings. Reruns currently air in the United States on TV Land.
"As many intelligent people know, aliens are all around us. This is a story of a band of four such explorers. In order to blend in, they have assumed human form. This is the High Commander [Dick]. He has assembled an elite team of experts: A decorated military officer [Sally], a seasoned intelligence specialist [Tommy] and [Harry], well, they had an extra seat.
The premise of the show revolves around an extraterrestrial research expedition attempting to live as a "normal" human family in the fictional city of Rutherford, Ohio, where they live in a loft apartment. Humor was principally derived from the aliens' attempts to study human society and, due to their living as humans themselves whilst on Earth, to understand the human condition. In later episodes, they became more accustomed to Earth and often seemed to be more interested in their human lives than in their mission. The episode "Dick's Big Giant Headache" insinuates that this may be due to the effect the frailty of the human condition has on them.
Dick Solomon (played by John Lithgow), the High Commander and leader of the expedition, is the family provider, and takes a position as a physics professor at Pendelton State University. Information officer Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been given the body of a teenager and is forced to enroll in high school (later college), leaving security officer Sally (Kristen Johnston) and communications officer Harry (French Stewart) to spend their lives as thirty somethings hanging out at home and bouncing through short-term jobs.
The family often communicates with their off-world (and usually unseen) boss, The Big Giant Head, who apparently only got the job by kissing "The Big Giant Butt." When in human form, the Big Giant Head (William Shatner) is an arrogant, alcoholic sexual predator. His orders are received by Harry, who unexpectedly (and often in inconvenient circumstances) stands erect, his arms stiff (acting as the antenna), and proclaims: "Incoming message from the Big Giant Head."
Another source of humor in the show, once pointed out by the character Don, is that the names of the three male aliens, are Tom, Dick and Harry. (i.e., Every Tom, Dick and Harry.)
Indeed, this Zelig-like quality the family often exhibits is used to great effect in the series, such as in the episode " Dick the Mouth Solomon" in which Sally and Tommy meet a Mafia-style mobster and almost immediately take on the roles of gangster's moll (Sally) and young wiseguy (Tommy). And in " Dick Solomon of the Indiana Solomons," Harry mimics "Uncle Abe" to perfection, right down to the cigar, physical mannerisms, and speech patterns.
Relationships between the characters are similarly familiar from theatrical and circus comedy performed in Europe during the past few centuries. Usually, whenever Don and Sally are in the same room and speaking to one another, their conversations revert to a rather silly, pseudo-film noir dialogue.
Details about their alien nature are rarely given and inconsistent, except to reinforce the idea that their former lives were almost barren of emotion and most of the relationships humans have with each other. Their original forms, for example, are described as asexual, with reproduction a matter of sending packets of genetic material to each other in the mail. Leaders like The Big Giant Head are unelected and assumed infallible (in fact, it is stated that politicians on their planet are chosen by seeing which one can outrun the "giant fireball"). The upshot is that living in an Earth culture provides the Solomons with an almost intolerable degree of emotional stimulation and conflict, which they are very ill-equipped to handle.
Some of the episodes seemingly derive their comedy from affectionate send-ups of TV and films. For example, in the episode "Father Know Dick," when Harry finds out he is a transmitter, he "goes off the rails" (complete with red jacket as worn by Jim in Rebel Without a Cause), yells "You're tearing me apart!" and goes off to play "chicken" with a tough guy in a bar. In the episode "Dick's Big Giant Headache," both Dick and the Big Giant Head mention seeing something on the wing of the plane after having traveled by airline, a nod to both John Lithgow and William Shatner having played the role of the passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing in The Twilight Zone. In another episode, a face-slapping session with Dick and Sally pastiches the Chinatown sequence: "She's my daughter; my sister; my daughter." In "When Aliens Camp," the Solomons and Mary go on a disastrous camping trip. Dick is captured by a bunch of boy scouts and instantly turns "native." painting his face and sighing "The horror" in a spoof of Marlon Brando's character in Apocalypse Now.
Though Dick's understanding of physics is weaker than his "son" Tommy's, it is implied that even his basic scientific knowledge makes advanced Earth physics appear rudimentary, leading to his becoming respected in his field despite his childish behavior. A well-known segment from an episode has him reading a passage from A Brief History of Time and laughing hysterically at Stephen Hawking's description of virtual particles. Even so, Dick is often shown as the member of the family with the least to recommend him in terms of ability, leading them to question his right to his command. Sally, for instance, is depicted as not only having an attractive body (she is often described as being "Amazonian"), but being amazingly physically strong and fit, able to fight and defeat large groups of men much larger than she (even when doing so is unnecessary and culturally inappropriate).
Tommy, similarly, has been trained with the ability of near-instant recall and has an encyclopedic knowledge about Earth society, which unfortunately seems useless in terms of helping him make appropriate decisions, but ensures that he remains a straight-A student.
Harry is most fascinating, since his behavior is bizarre, unstable and borderline mentally retarded even for a Solomon (a condition, it is implied, engendered by the chip in his brain that allows him to communicate with the home planet), yet somehow this mental condition gives him an inexplicable sex appeal for women and makes him the only Solomon with any talent in the arts — Harry often seems to have a knack for all fine arts, including music and theater, and is consistently shown as being an incredibly talented painter, especially as a portraitist and caricaturist, though his inability to verbally articulate his artistic ideas – or, in fact, any ideas at all – in an intelligent fashion sinks his efforts at making a living through his talent.
One of Dick's driving motivations becomes his desire to master drawing, acting, music, or other pursuits - all of which he fails at miserably due to his lack of understanding of how the clearly less intelligent Harry could possibly possess talents he does not.
Sally similarly acquires a long-term boyfriend, Officer Don Orville (Wayne Knight), an overweight and incompetent police officer who becomes attracted to her after several incidents in which he is forced to confront or arrest the Solomons for various crimes. The two generally have conversations while speaking in a manner similar to an old 1930s crime drama.
Harry has a relationship with his landlord Mrs. Dubcek's (Elmarie Wendel) daughter Vicki (played by Jan Hooks), in an on-screen relationship that often features overly melodramatic scenes. Harry, despite no apparent skills in the art of seduction, also manages to foil a plot to dissolve the Earth by seducing Cindy Crawford.
Some humor comes from the fact that at some point in the show most of the character relationships have been "mixed up" — a strange attraction is briefly shown between Mary and Tommy due to their similar passion for the social sciences and the study of humanity, in which Tommy disturbingly chooses to "step aside" and let Dick pursue her instead. Nina (Simbi Khali), Dick's assistant who primarily serves as his straight man and comic foil, is seen briefly having a fling with Harry. Mrs. Dubcek also, who is at first merely a source of comic relief, her own bizarre foibles and imperceptibly causing her to be a terrible role model for proper human behavior to the Solomons, is revealed to have had a fling with Harry.
Occasionally, the Solomons would encounter or think they encountered other extraterrestrials — the most long-lasting such gag being the Solomons' belief that Jell-O is an offshoot of a hostile, amorphous, carnivorous species they have often encountered, prompting them to go into hysterics whenever they see it served and attempt to destroy it.
The name of the Solomons' home planet (if they indeed have one) is never revealed throughout the course of the series; in the show's dialogue, it is referred to as simply "The Home Planet." It is located in a barred spiral galaxy on the Cepheus-Draco border. Major twists in the plot, often shown in the various season finales, tended to involve contact with the home planet, involving their superiors' ongoing disapproval at the Solomons' antics and their becoming a "laughing stock" among their peers.
|Paramount Comedy 2||Yes||Reruns|
|Middle East||MBC4||No||Sixth Season never broadcast.|
In 1997, 3rd Rock won the most Emmy Awards (five from eight nominations) for a television series:
John Lithgow received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for each year the show was broadcast, winning the Emmy in 1996, 1997, and 1999. Accepting the 1999 award he said "Many wonderful things have happened to me in my life, but the two best are "3rd Rock" and my family."
Golden Globe Awards
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|1||July 6, 2005||May 17, 2004||November 9, 2005|
|2||October 25, 2005||June 21, 2004||November 9, 2005|
|3||February 21, 2006||August 30, 2004||February 8, 2006|
|4||May 2, 2006||October 25, 2004||July 6, 2006|
|5||August 15, 2006||January 24, 2005||February 7, 2007|
|6||November 14, 2006||June 10, 2002||February 7, 2007|
| Complete Box Set |
|TBA||October 25, 2004||TBA|
The book is essentially a report of their findings during their stay on Earth (although in Dick Solomon's foreword, he states that the report has been requested too early). Primarily a source of humor, the book includes such features as "What to do if you encounter Jell-O", a fan biography of Katie Couric written by Harry, and Sally's version of a Cosmo quiz. Portions of the book are included in the Booklets inside each season set of the series.
Despite the report's being set within the fictional world of 3rd Rock, there is a foreword written by John Lithgow himself in which he explains how he was "abducted" by the 3rd Rock producers and forced to work on their production. There is a post-it note attached to the foreword, apparently written by Dick Solomon, stating that he doesn't know why the foreword is there, but that Lithgow is an Earth actor who appeared in "some helicopter movie." A black and white picture of the 3rd Rock cast and crew is also included at the end of the book.