Steven Spielberg can attach his name to just about any sci-fi project, and people will tune in to the finished product in the hopes of watching something richly complex and compelling. “Falling Skies,” which he produced, was no exception; the show, about the aftermath of an alien invasion, pulled in 5.9 million viewers during Sunday’s two-hour premiere event, taking the title of the year’s most-watched cable premiere. While hype and viewership do not always translate into quality, we managed to get lucky on all fronts. In an industry where high-concept shows and movies have a long way to fall – and often do – “Falling Skies” is a gift of well-executed science fiction infused with human drama.
- Directors: Carl Franklin (1.01) and Greg Beeman (1.02)
- Writers: Robert Rodat (1.01) and Robert Rodat & Graham Yost (1.02)
- Cast: Noah Wyle, Drew Roy, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham
Episode Titles: “Live and Learn” and “The Armory”
In the first hour of the premiere, we learn of an unprovoked and unexplained alien invasion and subsequent occupation of earth. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a former history professor with a specialty in military tactics, is now second in command of the 2nd Mass, the military resistance group tasked with aiding the survival of civilians. While scouting in Boston area, Mason’s son, Hal (Drew Roy), discovers one of his formerly lost brothers being kept prisoner by the aliens.
The second hour is packed with action offset by human moments as Mason and a task force are sent to an armory to gather supplies. There, they encounter an ex-con named John Pope (Colin Cunningham) and his rag-tag team of survivors, who decide to take Mason’s people hostage and use them to negotiate for supplies from the 2nd Mass.
- The setting: At first glance, it seems unusual to stage a sci-fi epic anywhere but a major city such as New York – the usual locations you’ll find in science fiction movies, TV shows, and video games. But therein lies the genius of “Falling Skies.” Boston, as the bastion of the American Revolution, is a fitting backdrop for a human resistance against an occupation of otherworldly beings. This theme of revolution runs throughout the entire premiere, grounding the fantastic nature of the show in something human that we can all understand
- World-building: Most impressive is how, in the span of two hours, “Falling Skies” establishes a fascinating mythos that leaves the viewer wanting to learn more about the aliens and this post-apocalyptic world in which the characters live. The show engages in world-building on an ambitious, yet still manageable scale and succeeds on all levels. From the opening sequence in which children explain the invasion to the everyday language (aliens are referred to as “skitters”), the world of “Falling Skies” unfolds steadily and skillfully.
- Human drama: Good science fiction accentuates the human aspects of its story utilizing the tools and tropes of the genre. It takes some time, but “Falling Skies” accomplishes this in a very touching way. When Mason’s youngest son, Matt, rides his skateboard in front of the civilian caravan at the beginning of the second half, it is a simple, yet poignant moment of expressed humanity.
- John Pope: Colin Cunningham delivers the most enjoyable performance of the premiere as the bad guy with a real flair for the dramatic. But perhaps it is not such a good thing for the best acting to come from the villain.
- The first hour: The first half of the premiere is mostly exposition and plods along slowly. The entire two-hour block might have been better paced had the executives done away with the episode delineation and simply allowed the whole episode to hit the its beats at the proper times.
- The plot: Alien invasions are nothing new, but the best science fiction knows how to reinvent a tired trope. Sadly, “Falling Skies” lacks in its imagination, although it does a solid job with the tried-and-true storyline and subplots.
- The characters: While the interactions among characters provide enjoyable drama and tension, each character individually lacks uniqueness and feels like a cardboard cutout of the usual suspects found in sci-fi thrillers: hardened military commanders, duty-bound doctors, etc. As likable as Tom Mason and company are, there is nothing outstanding about any of them that makes you care so deeply about their plight.
“Falling Skies” does not do much new for the human-resistance-to-alien-invasion plot, but the show’s mythos and keen sense of humanity are enough to keep this viewer’s interest.
“Falling Skies” airs every Sunday night on TNT!
What did you think of Sunday’s episode?