By Ken Tucker
Updated March 17, 2020 at 03:04 AM EDT
Credit: 3rd Rock From the Sun: Courtesy of Carsey-Werner

Science fiction tv fans: Quiz alert! ”You launch a protoplasm capsule into your partner’s receptor port and then wait for an impact summary.”

Is this a line of dialogue from the series conclusion of (a) ”Star Trek: Voyager” or (b) 3rd Rock From the Sun?

Answer: (b) — that’s how John Lithgow’s alien, Dick Solomon, describes to his girlfriend, Mary (Jane Curtin), the act of sex as it’s performed on his planet. For people with a laser beam thin interest in sci-fi (oh, say? me, for instance), this is one problem with the genre: dialogue that’s equal parts jargon, joke, and gobbledygook. It takes a mighty actor to deliver sci -fi dramaturgy, and ”3rd Rock” found one in its leader. Lithgow always understood he was playing broad farce, and this stage vet pumped up his energy and maintained a loopy wit that transcended the show’s often limp punchlines.

This week, the series ends a long run — ”3rd Rock” premiered in ’96 — and sends its crew back home. (This isn’t a plot spoiler — it’s been all over the Web for months.) In the jagged hourlong farewell, it’s a matter of wringing laughs out of the supporting crew’s one dimensional traits: the dumbness of French Stewart’s Harry (imagine the relief Stewart must feel, never having to do that eyeball squashing squint anymore), the grumpiness of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s old man in a young man’s body Tommy, and the amazon hubba hubbaness of Kristen Johnston’s Sally, who, in a moment typical of the show’s burlesque era corniness, says goodbye to her earthly breasts, each of which she named. Guest star Elvis Costello, a reputed fan — proving once again that there’s no accounting for Brit taste — croons (what else?) ”Fly Me to the Moon.” And not a season too soon. (Note: Grade is for finale; as for series run grade, fight amongst yourselves.)

3rd Rock From the Sun

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