With The Killing done for the season, I’m looking for a new TV show to write about weekly. I decided to check out the two-hour premiere of Falling Skies on TNT. Falling Skies is about a group of survivors six months after the earth has been invaded by hostile alien forces. It’s based on an idea by Stephen Spielberg.
I kind of love the implication of a show based on an idea by Stephen Spielberg. It paints a little picture in my mind. Like, there’s a bunch of guys who work for Spielberg, and they’re all sitting around a conference table talking about whatever projects they’re all involved with or whatever, and Spielberg has been real quiet for a couple minutes, and then he says suddenly: “Hey, what if aliens invaded earth, and instead of a show about the invasion, the show takes places months later when the resistance is already underway?”
And everyone sort of nods, and says, “Yeah, that sounds cool. That would be cool, Stephen.” And Spielberg just sits there staring at them, and it’s completely silent, and finally someone is forced to say, “Okay. Um. I guess… I guess I’ll go spend, um… the next couple years… working on that… that show. That show you just had an idea for.” And then he walks out, thinking, “Shit! I had a bunch of plans for the next couple years, too! Well, better call the wife and tell her I’ll be a couple years late for dinner.”
(There was a LucasArts adventure game called The Dig that was also based on an “idea” by Spielberg. I feel like kind of the same thing happened. And it sort of showed. The Dig was okay, but not nearly as great as the other LucasArts games.)
Anyway. Guess I should talk about the show itself at some point. The two-hour premiere was actually the first two episodes shown back-to-back. With a pack of survivors wandering around, scavenging for food and weapons, it’s a little bit like The Walking Dead, and with the aliens stomping around and looking for them it’s a little bit like Battlestar Galactica.
The show centers around Noah Wyle’s character, Professor History. I call him that because I can’t remember his name, and also he’s a history professor, a fact that is brought up by this scene that takes place every ten minutes or so:
Professor History: “History has shown us that weaker forces can overcome more powerful ones. Just think of Sparta, or the Revolutionary War, or the Red Sox, or Minutemen, or porcupines, or the water balloon fight episode of The Simpsons, or –”
Someone: “Man. You sure know your history, professor!”
Professor History: “Heh, well, yeah. I am a professor of history.”
Professor History’s wife was killed by aliens, one of his sons was captured by them, and he’s struggling to take care of the remaining two: a cute mop-top little boy (I don’t remember his name) and a rebellious teenager (I don’t remember his name either). This seems like it would be incredibly annoying: we know from television that little kids are a drag, always asking stupid things innocently, like “Where’s Mommy?” and “Why do the aliens want to hurt us?” and having to have simple shit explained to them, and teenagers always hate their single dads and shout stuff like “I’m not a kid anymore, Dad! You don’t control me!”
Thing is, these kids are actually okay. The little kid is portrayed as, well, a little kid. Sure, he misses his mom, and wonders why he can’t have a birthday party, but he’s not really that annoying. And the teenager, while definitely trying to walk his own path, actually listens to and respects his dad. They do have their differences, and I’m sure they’ll be butting heads, but it’s not overdone. Good job, Falling Skies, for exceeding my expectations!
Angry Army Guy, played by Will Patton, does pretty much meet my expectations. He’s in charge of the ragtag army that’s overseeing the 200 or so civilians, he barks orders, and he expects everyone to defer to him at all times. Professor History wants to go look for his missing son, who was spotted wearing a “harness”, a weird device that the aliens attach to the spinal cords of children to enslave them. Angry Army Guy doesn’t want to expend the resources needed for a dangerous rescue mission, however, and Professor History argues with him pretty much every time they talk. While this gets old quickly, we do see some signs that Angry Army Guy does have a bit of a heart.
Rounding out the cast are a number of slender, attractive young women with perfect makeup. There’s a doctor (Doctor Lady), a teenage girl smitten with Professor History’s teenage son (Teenage Lady), and another teenage girl smitten with the same son (Other Teenage Lady). Other characters include Very Young Kid Who Is A Surprisingly Good Soldier, Black Guy Who Yells A Lot And Dances, Yellow Labrador Dog Who Barks At Aliens, And Likeable Old Man And His Likeable Old Wife Who Seem To Take The Alien Invasion In Stride.
As far as the aliens themselves, they’re shown early, if not often. They come in two types: Skitters, which are bug like things with many legs, and Mechs, which are large metallic bipedal constructs with a lot of firepower. They look pretty good, especially for TV, and there’s some mystery about them. Professor History wonders why the Mechs are bipedal instead of looking like robot versions of the multi-legged Skitters. Which is a good question. Are the Skitters even in charge, or are the Mechs actually their masters? Are the Mechs actually robots, or is there an as-yet unseen alien inside them? What about the children that they’re enslaving? Maybe they’re inside the Mechs, being forced to hunt down the rest of the humans? There are also some large alien structures on the surface of the planet: who or what lives inside them? I suspect there’s more going on then they’ve shown so far, and if the show is going to really draw us in, they need to explore who the aliens are, what they want, and who is actually running the show.
The first episode of Falling Skies is decent, but the second episode, unfortunately, falters quite a bit. Professor History and his kid are scavenging a warehouse for weapons on the orders of Angry Army Guy, who won’t let the professor look for his enslaved son until he finishes this questionable mission. Things go awry, and they’re ambushed and captured by Comically Evil Crazy Flamboyant Racist Scene-Chewing Outlaw Leader (I’ll shorten that to Crazy Guy) and his clan of Evil Jerks. Crazy Guy is supremely annoying and ridiculous, and the show quickly devolves into him spouting crap and acting eccentric for an hour, while trying to coerce Army Guy into giving him weapons in exchange for returning Professor History unharmed.
It does get better toward the end as the bullets start flying, we meet yet another attractive slender young woman with perfect makeup, and Angry Army Guy agrees to let the professor go look for his son.
We’ll see how the show shapes up. There are plenty of little niggles, like the habit of people walking around in broad daylight and talking loudly despite aliens being everywhere: Old Man actually teaches a class about biology to a bunch of kids sitting out in the open during the day. This seems pointless and dangerous. The first two episodes ended with that thing where they play music and people smile fondly at each other while watching children frolic, reminding us that we haven’t lost our humanity. But the effects are good, and while the show doesn’t entirely avoid a lot of common cliches it at least sort of sidesteps them. Plus, it has a few pretty badass fights. I assume these two episodes will air again before next weekend, so you might want to take a look.