Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Review: Falling Skies – “Pilot”

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Quick Reaction: TNT’s Falling Skies is different and more ambitious than anything else currently airing on the network. And that’s a very, very good thing.

(Read on for a more in-depth look)

You can practically smell TNT’s desperation caked all over its new series, Falling Skies. It’s painfully obvious that the network is desperate – DESPERATE – for it to be a tent pole hit [1]. Production and guidance from Steven Spielberg? Check. A familiar network TV star in the lead role (ER’s Noah Wyle)? Yup. Exciting premise of an alien invasion? Present. Promotion of literally every single TNT series during Falling Skies’ two hour premiere’s commercial breaks? You know it. So if all of the elements are here for Falling Skies to be a hit, the question is obvious: Is it actually any good? Luckily for TNT, the pilot suggests that yes, it just might be.

It starts with the show’s brain trust. For one thing, Spielberg and series creator Robert Rodat make a number of smart choices that steer the pilot in the right direction. Immediately, they choose to drop the audience right into the action. Any show that has enough respect for its viewers to trust that they’ll be able to figure out what’s happening without being spoon-fed has started out on solid footing. They also intelligently dispense with any unnecessary intrigue and introduce the alien race within the pilot’s first twenty minutes. A lesser show would have needlessly drawn out their first appearance but Falling Skies doesn’t fall into that trap and, instead, smartly chooses to give the audience an anticipatory look at what they’re investing their time in [2]. The kinetic camerawork in the battle scenes is another wise move that fits perfectly with the show’s tone and, while the battles themselves are not necessarily groundbreaking, they are very professionally executed.

Casting decisions are another mark in Falling Skies’ favor. Our everyman hero is Wyle as Tom Mason, a history professor who is now the second-in-command of the group of survivors known as the 2nd Massachusetts (referred to as the 2nd Mass), having endured both the loss of his wife (to death during the invasion) and his middle son (to alien capture[3]) during the alien occupation. Wyle seems very well cast, bringing his grounded personality and professionalism to a role that could have been played histrionically in less talented hands. In some ways, he’s reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s character in Spielberg’s failed adaptation of War Of The Worlds, but Wyle is much more believable than Cruise was at any point in his role. There are not only other recognizable TV faces here (Will Patton from CBS’s The Agency as well as an arc as a villain on 24, the very attractive Moon Bloodgood [4], seen in ABC’s Day Break and on USA’s Burn Notice, and Stephen Weber, who will be showing up in multiple episodes as the season progresses) but also newcomers who fare well including Drew Roy as Mason’s oldest son Hal, who we see struggling with the new world order as he remarks at one point to his father that he’s now being offered ammunition to use against the aliens and their ominously hovering ships when, prior to the invasion, he wasn’t allowed to do something as simple as riding his bike at night without a light.

It’s also not without its downsides. Since this is Spielberg, there are the treacly “family is everything” optimistic shadings that show up from time to time (such as Mason joining his sons to play lacrosse [5] after a harrowing battle with the alien race) that looks to be one of Falling Skies’ few weaknesses thus far. Hopefully showrunner Scott Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica) will be able to curb their usage as the series unfolds. It can also feel a bit mechanical at times but that’s another kink that can surely be worked out over time. The second hour of the pilot introduces an interesting element with human factions in conflict but abandons it fairly quickly while incorporating a couple of new characters into the ensemble [6]. It’s generally weaker than the first hour but, in its favor, it does smartly choose to stay away from the aliens for the most part in favor of a bit of world-building with its characters. If Falling Skies is to survive, it will need this kind of deepening of its narrative instead of money shot alien bating. Credit Spielberg and Verheiden (and episode writer Graham Yost) for that.

One of the most encouraging goals that Falling Skies accomplishes is that it wants to aim higher than any other show on TNT’s roster. Whether that’s an ambition of the show itself or more of an indictment of TNT as a whole, it’s not clear. But it’s a welcomed change from the cookie-cutter procedurals with quirky leads (The Closer, Memphis Beat, and Saving Grace, I’m looking at you) that normally populate the network. With a few shifts, maybe it ends up being the tent pole that TNT so desperately wants after all.

Where To Watch: TNT | Sundays | 10:00 PM ET

Watch Online Here

RATING: 65/100 

[1] The fact that it shares more than a little in common with AMC’s 2010 cable smash The Walking Dead, from an apocalyptic battle with a different species (there it was zombies and here it’s aliens) while the survivors learn how to work with one another to scrap for their lives is probably not coincidental at all. There are also echoes of ABC’s V but, for Falling Skies’ sake let’s hope they don’t lean too heavily on influences from that disaster.

[2] Which incidentally look to be a cross between the aliens from Alien and a Ray Harryhausen-esque creature.

[3] In an effectively creepy twist, the aliens seem to be capturing teenagers and controlling them via a slug-like harness that attaches to the hosts’ spinal cords. The image of teen children as mindless zombies is both chilling and, frankly, quite realistic on a metaphorical level.

[4] Seriously, at one point my notes read: “Moon Bloodgood is hot.” She is. Really.

[5] Is lacrosse the sport du jour of cable TV dramas these days? It’s central to the plot of MTV’s Teen Wolf and here is the respite to earlier, more peaceful times. What’s next? Meerkats playing the sport on some Animal Planet show?

[6] Colin Cunningham’s John Pope seems to be positioned as the show’s anti-hero and potential breakout character but is mostly just annoying, while there seems to be more color to Sarah Carter’s Margaret, a former captive of Pope’s gang who now struggles to prove her worth and loyalty to the 2nd Mass.


Written by jeremylikestv

July 6, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with , , ,

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