Regular airtime: Mondays, 8pm ET (ABC Family)
Cast: Matt Dallas, Marguerite MacIntyre, Chris Olivero, Bruce Thomas, April Matson, Jean-Luc Bilodeau
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Stranger in a Strange Burb
High school can be stressful. Imagine how that stress is magnified for a foreign exchange student: you’re surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar with local customs and language idiosyncrasies. Even the family you live with doesn’t really know you, regardless of how happy they may be that you are there, and you know nothing of their family dynamic.
Kyle XY (perfectly cast Matt Dallas) understands these difficulties. But he’s not a foreign exchange student. In fact, no one in Kyle XY is quite sure who or what he is, not even Kyle himself. His memories begin the morning he wakes up nude in a forest. In the first episode, he was found and taken to a local juvenile detention center, where he didn’t speak at all and couldn’t recall where he was from. Social worker Nicole Trager (Marguerite MacIntyre) decided the first name assigned to him, “John Doe,” was too morbid and renamed him. She was also so concerned with how he might fare in a detention center that she took him home to stay with her family.
While the concept of the foreigner in a strange land is not new for television drama, Kyle is not your typical teen, possessing abilities that indicate his origins are otherworldly. He is a computer wiz and frighteningly quick on his feet. He’s also a stranger in his own belly-buttonless body; when he cut himself when walking through a glass door, Kyle told Natalie, “My body is leaking.” He didn’t realize that the pain in his abdomen meant he needed to urinate, so he peed on himself. Neither did he recognize the emptiness he felt as hunger; it was only by watching another teen at the detention center that he figured out how to eat.
Within days of arriving at the Trager household, Kyle was speaking English fairly fluently. Unfortunately, he absorbed inappropriate behavior as well as good, causing him to make frequent faux pas. During the pilot, he slipped up behind Natalie and wraps his arms around her, kissing her earlobe in the same way he saw her husband Stephen (Bruce Thomas) do. But while Natalie was extremely patient with his mistakes, the same cannot be said for the rest of her family, who resented his presence from the first moment they see him.
The self-indulgent Trager children are not good role models for Kyle. Older teen Lori (April Matson) is a spoiled brat who sneaks out of the house to attend parties and sneaks boys in for overnight visits. Younger Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) sneaks Playpen magazines into the house (his introduction to Kyle comes when Josh takes his porn to the bathroom for some self-gratification, where Kyle is hiding in the bathtub) and threw a fit when told to share his room with the new houseguest.
The juxtaposition of the innocent Kyle with such tainted youth not only emphasizes his peculiar situation, but also indicates the show’s attitude regarding “kids today”: they’re irresponsible, confrontational, and selfish. This was most evident when Kyle followed Lori to a party (she’s gone despite the fact that her mother expressly forbade her). The drunk and horny teens spent equal time getting Kyle drunk and ridiculing him. The boy with whom Lori spent the previous night was feeling up another girl, inspiring Lori to get so drunk she couldn’t remember the party the next day.
Eventually, Kyle won over the Tragers. He rescued Lori from being arrested at the party and carried the passed-out girl home, fixes a computer which Stephen is working on, and returns to Josh the Playpen his mother has confiscated. This acceptance allows Kyle to stay in the Trager home, setting up a dynamic of the alien in the “typical” American home. Had the Trager family opted to return Kyle to Social Services to be placed elsewhere, his future would have been one of a typical foster child, bounced from one home to another. By staying with the Tragers, Kyle is afforded some stability and security.
That Kyle knows no more about himself than viewers is promising. Too often in sci-fi, the “stranger” arrives with a mission or motivation. Kyle, however, is experiencing fear and uncertainty. He will likely face his past life at some point, indicated by the fact that he’s currently being trailed by a shadowy man carrying a thick file. And yet, even with this figure in place, Kyle XY steers clear of the dark tone prevalent in so many sci-fi shows. Part comedy, part family drama, and part sci-fi mystery, Kyle XY strikes the right balance between all three genres. No matter who Kyle turns out to be, so far, his journey looks like fun.