Falling Skies (2011) Preview

Hostile alien invasion plots are a staple of the science fiction genre and seem to be particularly well-suited for television.  Global crises always sweep aside the differences between people that real life seems to focus on, allowing the human characters to bond quickly and easily. Aliens also provide a convenient “other” toward which all characters and audiences can channel their hate with impunity without worrying about being politically correct. Finally, something as grand as a planetary takeover lends itself nicely to the typically gentle story arc of a TV season. Produced by Steven Spielberg, TNT’s new drama Falling Skies looks to capitalize on all of these plot assets, but goes one step further by highlighting that the most important facet of alien invaders is how they showcase the humanity of the people left to defend Earth.

Falling Skies takes place six months after an initial conflict with hostile aliens. When the show starts, what’s left of humanity is forced to scavenge for food and supplies while fending off patrolling invaders. The show focuses on a few hundred survivors in Massachusetts composed mostly of civilians who are defended by a small complement of fighters. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a history professor before the invasion, is one of the fighters. His oldest son Hal (Drew Roy) fights alongside him as a scout while Tom’s youngest son Matt (Maxim Knight) tries to live as normal of an 8-year-old life as he can at basecamp. Ben, Tom’s middle son, was unfortunately captured by the aliens for some unknown purpose.

Rounding out the cast of survivors is the hardnosed commander Weaver (Will Patton) who leads the fighters, Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), a pediatrician, who is the de facto doctor for the group and a handful of other principal characters who make up respective family members, love interests and enemies. Season one of Falling Skies will run for eight weeks and premieres on Sunday, June 19 at 9 p.m. on TNT before moving to its regular timeslot on Sundays at 10 p.m.

For science fiction, the visual effects can make or break the property. Fans of the genre will be happy to know that the CGI work ranges from serviceable to excellent for television. So when characters walk outside and a looming alien structure hangs over the city in the backdrop, audiences will simple accept the reality without having to convince themselves. Also, the show wisely alternates between computer generated models and real costumes and/or puppets so characters never have a 1000-yard stare at something right in front of them. Finally, while the conceptual design of the aliens won’t necessarily enthrall the imagination, they are unique enough to keep viewers engaged.

The production value overall is completely reasonable and never feels under-budgeted. This is due in large part to using creative locations. For instance, since the initial conflict centered around major metropolitan areas, the suburbs were generally unscathed, allowing the survivors to walk down virtually pristine streets in immaculate neighborhoods. While some locations may have audiences wondering if the scene was simply shot in a producer’s home, these locations make sense given the script.

The cast is fun to watch and Noah Wyle makes for a strong lead. He balances out his roles as father, fighter and teacher remarkably well, while still offering a slice of believable humanity in between whatever actions and dialogue are dictated by the script. Ultimately, however, it’s the excellent script that makes Falling Skies so enjoyable. The show doesn’t feel cynical, electing instead to focus on the positive traits of humanity, like self-sacrifice, determination and ingenuity. There are segments that require characters to behave horribly, but even those people are offered a chance at redemption. Of course not everything goes well for the survivors and everyone has suffered a personal tragedy, but viewers won’t feel depressed after watching each episode.

Impatient audiences should be thrilled by the short eight-week season. The initial episodes move at a brisk pace, covering major plot points and twists at a surprising, but not unwelcome, rate. The pacing feels spot on, devoting enough time to what’s important without feeling rushed and offering just enough time for ancillary concerns without feeling like padding. Still, there’s enough fertile ground to explore subplots with supporting characters if and when Falling Skies expands to longer seasons.

Falling Skies is an excellent drama that the whole family can appreciate. To be sure, there are mature themes involved, but they are handled tastefully – the violence is mostly off-screen – and are never murky. For instance, while some racist innuendo is tossed around, it’s done so by bad guys who die in the same episode. Falling Skies is a very safe show to watch, both for content and entertainment. It’s also one of the few shows worth staying up late for.

Watch Falling Skies on TNT. It premieres on Sunday, June 19 at 9 p.m. before moving to its regular timeslot on Sundays at 10 p.m.