3rd Rock from the Sun

From Academic Kids

3rd Rock From the Sun was an American television situation comedy that ran from 1996 until 2001. The show was about a "family" of four extraterrestrials that landed on Earth to observe human beings, while pretending (often awkwardly) to be humans. Template:Infobox television


The plot

The show derived much humor from the contrast between the outward appearance adopted by each of the aliens and his or her actual, internal nature. Dick, far from being a wise and fatherly figurehead, is arrogant, self-absorbed, petulant, faddish, and often downright foolish. Inside Sally's glamourous form lives the weapons and security officer: uncouth, swaggering and macho. The oldest of the group was morphed into teenager Tommy, his former wisdom at odds with the strange and often humiliating life in which his teenage persona casts him. Only the oddball of the group, Harry, seems comfortable with Earth - yet he is the most obviously weird of them all (particularly when his built-in "radio" function takes unexpected control over his body, relaying orders from the aliens' homeworld in an odd, booming voice).

The family comprise a survey-team from an alien culture, and often communicate with their offworld (and unseen) boss, "The Big Giant Head" who apparently only got the job by kissing "The Big Giant Butt". His orders are received by Harry, who unexpectedly (and often in inconvenient circumstances) stands erect, his arms stiff (acting perhaps as the antenna), and declaims "INCOMING MESSAGE FROM THE BIG GIANT HEAD". The Big Giant Head finally makes an appearance in the fourth season, played by actor William Shatner. His desire to review the team's results and performance is soon forgotten, as the newly corporeal alien is quickly distracted by all the vices his new flesh affords.

At the end of his first appearance, TBGH tells Dick of a bad experience he had once on an airplane. Dick exclaims that the same thing happened to him! This is an inside joke to the Twilight Zone episode "Terror at 20,000 Feet". Shatner appeared in the original television version; Lithgow appeared in the movie remake some thirty years later.

Comedic style

Third Rock uses comedic elements which are strikingly unusual in modern North American television comedy, yet drawn from established sources. Clowning techniques, all with a long pedigree in European theatre, are employed throughout the several seasons of the show. Mime, slapstick, speaking in rhyme and role reversals are employed, giving this science fiction comedy a solid anchoring in more venerable clown traditions, such as the Commedia dell'arte. In the well established style of clown parody, the aliens repeatedly ape the behavior patterns, mannerisms and speech style of humans in various walks of life and much humor is derived from their abilty to be more like their target human than the original. Relationships between the characters are similarly familiar from theatrical and circus comedy performed in Europe during the past few centuries.


In 1997 3rd Rock won the most Emmy Awards (5 from 8 nominations) for a television series:

  • Outstanding Lead Actor - Comedy Series — John Lithgow
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress - Comedy Series — Kristen Johnston
  • Outstanding Costume Design - Series — "A Nightmare on Dick Street" - Marguerite Derricks
  • Outstanding Choreography — "A Nightmare on Dick Street"
  • Outstanding Sound Mixing - Comedy Series — "A Nightmare on Dick Street"

John Lithgow received an Emmy Award nomination for "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series" for each year the show was broadcast, winning in 1996, 1999 and 2001. 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."

Series finale

After Mary sees Dick change Liam into a monkey, Dick reveals his true identity to Mary. The Big Giant Head finds out and tells them that their mission is over. Sally helps Don realize what it means to be a police officer and Dick leaves Mary forever. The ending scene features the aliens singing goodbye in their Rambler and disappearing back to their home planet. Later, in syndication, an alternate ending was shown with Dick returning and abducting Mary in the nude.


  • John Lithgow as High Commander Dick Solomon
  • Kristen Johnston as Security Officer Lieutenant Sally Solomon (Dick's "sister", she is sometimes introduced as Tommy's sister earlier in the series, although never Dick's "daughter")
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Information Officer Tommy Solomon (Dick's "son")
  • French Stewart as Communicator Harry Solomon (Dick's "brother")
  • Wayne Knight as Police Officer Don Orville (at times, Sally's boyfriend)
  • Jane Curtin as Dr. Mary Albright (at times, Dick's girlfriend)
  • Simbi Khali as Nina Campbell (Albright's assistant)
  • Elmarie Wendell as Mrs. Mamie Dubcek (the Solomons' landlord)

The names of the male Solomons are likely a play on the expression, "Every Tom, Dick, and Harry". Sally's name may come from the title of the movie When Harry Met Sally....

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