As long as there has been science fiction, alien invasion has been a staple of the genre. Beginning with HG Wells immortal classic “War of the Worlds” (Which has been redone, and re-interpreted several times) popular fiction has embraced the alien invasion story, from the 50’s monster and saucer movies to recent summer blockbusters like Independence Day, and going full circle Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War of the Worlds. On TV aliens tend to be more sereptitious. The conspiracy of X-Files and Dark Skies, or even the plots of the Vistors in both version of V. Now of course some of this is budgetary. Up until now TV has not had the resources to deliver a weekly series with the realistic effects to show the consequences of an alien invasion to planet Earth. And some of this is dramaturgical. How can you sustain an ongoing story of an overwhelming alien force fighting humanity without an original dramatically fulfilling reason for not wiping humans out?
This brings us to FALLING SKIES, the new sci-fi series which premiered Sunday 6/19 on the TNT network. Right of the bat, things are different here, we don’t see the arrival of Vogan destructor fleets orbiting over the skylines of the world, with waves strike fighters and city destroying weapons laying waste to the world. No, by the time we join the story, the invasion is over, and humanity has lost. The tale of the invasion is quickly recapped through a child’s art and story, and the story begins in earnest with remnants of humanity, crawling out of the wreckage, and figuring out where it goes from here. Do they run and hide? Do they fight back? How will they survive?
Fighting back is certainly high on the agenda. Of course most armed forces have already been decimated, but humanity has found it still has fighters, and have attempted to organize into small bands of independent militias, on the run and striking at 6 legged aliens (referred to as Skitters) while also trying to protect the small bands of civilian survivors. Among the leaders is former history professor Tom Mason ably and affably played by Noah Wyle (ER, The Librarian movie series also on TNT). Mason, second in command of the “Massachusetts 2nd” and father to 3 boys. His oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy) is one of the 100 or so members of the MA 2nd. The youngest, Matt (Maxim Knight) is one of the civilians under the militia’s resentful protection. His middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup) has been captured along with other children, and he has been put into a “harness”, an alien device, which is controlling them.
This series owes a lot to Battlestar Galactica is clearly a huge influence, with its holocaust of humanity, and the conflict between military forces and surviving civilian population. Sadly this show doesn’t strong character like Laura Rosslyn to represent the civilians. There is Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) who may grow into the role, only time will tell. This show doesn’t play the moral grey area in the way that made Galactica such a riveting watch, There is also a Baltar-like morally ambiguous type in the person of John Pope, (Colin Cunningham) outlaw philosopher, who leads a pack of criminal biker types only out for themselves. The visual style of the show also reminds me of AMC hit, The Walking Dead, another post-apocalyptic, rising from the ashes, fight for humanity.
The first episode (a 2 hour special) sets up several long term mysteries, why are they capturing adolescents and controlling them with the harness? Why are the Mecha styled war machines that the aliens have stationed, bipedal if the Skitters have 6 legs? Wouldn’t they make their machines look more like themselves? There are secrets waiting to be revealed. The speed of which will certainly affect the long term prognosis of the show. Reveal too much too fast and lose the dramatic tension and the lure of the show. Move to slow, and risk the losing the interest of the viewers (V, The Event). So far, with only having watched the 2 hour pilot, the characters seems a little stock for me, but there is certainly potential for growth. I do hope they begin to explore more depth in the conflict. For now, this looks entertaining enough to help pass the time until TORCHWOOD begins its new series, MIRACLE DAY in July on STARZ.
FALLING SKIES airs Sundays on TNT at 10pm this summer.