3rd Rock from the Sun (sometimes referred to as simply 3rd Rock) is an American sitcom that aired from 1996 to 2001 on NBC. The show is about four extraterrestrials who are on an expedition to Earth, which they consider to be a very insignificant planet. The extraterrestrials pose as a human family in order to observe the behavior of human beings.
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, said to be 52 miles (84 km) outside of Cleveland, where they live in an attic apartment. Humor was principally derived from the aliens' attempts to study human society and, because of their living as humans themselves while on Earth, to understand the human condition. This show reflects human life from the perspective of aliens and many sources of humour are from the learning experiences the alien characters have. Most of the episodes are named after the protagonist "Dick". In later episodes, they became more accustomed to Earth and often became more interested in their human lives than in their mission.
The show also takes a lot of its humor from its mirroring of West European and American anthropological expeditions and their assumptions of superiority to the "natives," as well as their inability to distinguish themselves from the natives. Jane Curtin plays a professor of anthropology, and many of the issues that the four aliens struggle with appear in her conversation and work. Furthermore, these four alien researchers end up looking more or less like joyriders as they get drawn further and further into human life.
Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), the High Commander and leader of the expedition, is the family provider as a physics professor at Pendelton State University (with Ian Lithgow, John Lithgow's oldest son, playing one of his less successful students). 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 "the one with the transmitter in his head," Harry (French Stewart) to spend their lives as twenty somethings hanging out at home and bouncing through short-term jobs. The show also revolves around their relationships with humans, mostly their love interests.
The family often communicates through Harry with their off-world (and usually unseen) boss, the Big Giant Head, who when he finally visits Earth, appears in the body of William Shatner. Harry unexpectedly (and often in inconvenient circumstances) stands up, his arms stiff (acting as the antenna), and proclaims: "Incoming message from the Big Giant Head."
Almost all the episodes revolve around the Solomons' difficulties, and ease, in integrating themselves into Earth culture and understanding human customs — they are always desperately trying to "read" human correctly, and when they succeed (or think they succeed) they are ecstatic.
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 nonsexual, 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. Although they are ill-equipped to handle such an emotional maelstrom, they love it.