TV has often succeeded with shows that focus on the fish out of water. Whether it's an awkward youth in high school or a maverick attorney/police officer, nothing provides the character depth that new circumstances and surroundings can provide.

In some cases a character's defining trait might be minor (a hair color or accent), but in other situations it becomes more important - like, perhaps, being from another world.

Not counting sci-fi heavyweights such as Star Trek and The X-Files, the following shows provide a rich tapestry of different cultures and societies. That's right, this is for the aliens and the visitors. Beam us up!

Alien Nation
This series, based very loosely on the feature film of the same name, continued the narrative of the Newcomers (funny in and of itself, right?) from planet Tencton. These aliens, whose heads were as diverse and varied as the designs you could find in a bag of Easter eggs, showed up in a number of city-sized space ships bringing their own social order, caste system and problems.

The newcomers were useful for the writers to use as a stand-in for other races when themes revolving around racism and sexism were introduced, and the newcomers were happy to assist. These guys were awesome. Besides their enormous heads, they got drunk on sour milk, salt water had the effect of battery acid on them. Also, the male of the species was the one who got pregnant! We know! Craziness! Although the series only ran for one season (1989-1990), we'll always remember the first time a Newcomer and a human got drunk on sour milk and vodka and got it on before our disbelieving eyes. This show was cut down way too soon.

The Visitors were the stars of a few different television escapades in the 80s. There was:
-V (the original), a two episode mini-series in 1983
-V (the final battle), a three-parter in 1984
-V (the series) the long-awaited series in 1984-1985

There were other installments and updates, but they were weak compared to the mastery of the original works. This stuff was golden. The plot was that 50 huge flying saucers showed up on Earth one day. They announced themselves to the United Nations, all gentlemanly like, and they're nothing but sunshine and puppies. They call themselves the Visitors, look human, and need to wear these special shades to protect their alien eyes.

It's only after the human governments reach out and welcome the Visitors into society (the cover story was that they needed help for their homeworld, certain chemicals and whatnot) that their nefarious deeds are recognized for what they are. And it was that the Visitors were hungry! That's right people, the Visitors wear human masks and they go to earth for what amounts to dinner. They're reptilian slavers who roam from planet to planet eating the inhabitants they run into. We told you it was awesome. Through the entire run of the concept, there is a resistance and civil war and lots of cool fireworks (for 1985). Remakes have been made, but nothing can touch the inventiveness of the original.

"Farscape" is one of our favorite sci-fi shows. You'd be hard pressed to find the variety of alien beings in any other TV show, without heading into the Star Trek universe. "Farscape's" characters are robust in styling and in back-story. Just the main cast (at the beginning of the series) offers Luxan, a gigantic warrior with two hearts (one for loving and one for killing) and tentacles coming out of his head; Hynerian, a diminutive frog-like race that produces helium farts and has three stomachs; and Delvian, a humanoid-like race, except that its actually super religious plants.

Also, it just so happens that the ship the main cast travels on is also an alien, capable of feelings and mating with another ship. The vast array of aliens are too much to catalogue here, but rest assured, your head will be spinning with the tales of interstellar politics and various wars between different factions and races of "Farscape." If you're a fan of sci-fi, pick this up and dive right in.

3rd Rock From The Sun
On a lighter note, this family of aliens enjoyed a series run from 1996-2001, and their adaptation to Earth and its culture provided some welcome comic relief. The basic plot was four scientists were sent to Earth to provide observations of humans and to report back to their alien superiors. As the series pushed on, the scientists eventually found themselves more at home on Earth, and they even entered into a number of loving relationships with unsuspecting humans who were often the recipients of misunderstandings in body language.

John Lithgow was the high commander of the scientific mission and was placed at a university; the other three were placed into a teenager's body and male and female adult forms. Their boss, ably portrayed by William Shatner, gave them their missions and provided support when he could be bothered to.

All in all, "3rd Rock" gave viewers an opportunity to wonder about their weird neighbors and to assume that they were aliens, until proven wrong, or right.

Mork & Mindy
One of the first primetime aliens, Mork was spun off from an episode of Happy Days into his own show in 1978. Mork lived in the attic of his friend Mindy's house after she discovered. His customary greeting was Na-Nu, Na-Nu, and if his activities weren't enough to tell people he was a bit off, this should have been a big clue. "Mork and Mindy" was Robin Williams's first real acting break, and if you need help remembering that Robin used to be funny, "Mork and Mindy" is a good place to start.

Mork and Mindy eventually married, which spelled doom for the no longer funny show in 1982, but while still on the air, Mork provided the kind of trailblazing that later aliens would use to make their own marks on American television. Shazbot!

Honorable Mentions:

What are your favorite shows about aliens? Make a comment!

Story by Larry Grodsky
Starpulse contributing writer