TNT’s new sci-fi drama arrives with an impressive pedigree behind the camera with a lot of producing talent from film lead by Steven Spielberg, whose name features prominently in the marketing of the new series. And it should–for the current generation and beyond, Spielberg has been one of the great myth makers and storytellers for film and television. But will his Hollywood clout translate into a compelling weekly drama?
Falling Skies is–on paper at least–a solid concept for a series, albeit one with boilerplate elements. However the first two hours that comprise the pilot episode (airing this Sunday at 9 P.M.) don’t exactly put the show’s best face forward, not really racing out of the gate, but instead lurching onwards coasting on the basics of that very solid concept. It’s unfortunate, because having seen a few episodes into the season, the series does get its footing after getting past the unfortunately flubbed first impression.
The series stars Noah Wyle (E.R. Donnie Darko) as Tom Mason, a history professor-turned-resistance fighter in the 2nd Mas militia in the aftermath of an alien invasion which has disabled global communications, decimated cities, and put humanity on the run. As second-in-command under gruff career soldier Weaver (Will Patton), Mason struggles to lead his fellow soldiers while protecting a frightened civilian population which includes two of his sons, Hal and Matt (Drew Roy and Maxim Knight) as they attempt to find safety in the ruins of Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the fate of his third son, Ben (Connor Jessup) remains unknown, but children his age have been known to be kidnapped by the aliens and implanted with bio-mechanical harnesses which serve an as-of-yet unexplained purpose. This actually describes the entirety of the human experience with the aliens: “as-of-yet unexplained,” which gives the series its mysterious hook which will presumably propel it through the 10 episodes of its first season.
The family element is the show’s overriding concern: Mason’s protectiveness of his sons and his search for a third who may or may not be alive. And as with everything else about the show, in theory, it’s a strong through-line to follow. The script provides ample beats where we see Tom with his kids giving off an impression of basic human decency mixed with a constant fear and weariness. I suspect Wyle could play this character in his sleep. Unfortunately, the actors playing his sons aren’t given a lot of personality in the first two hours and the youngest son, played by Knight, is still a very undeveloped talent. As a result, the eldest son comes across as vaguely rebellious while the youngest plays every line with some variation of painfully earnest.
It’s a shame, because the show is almost on the edge of doing something really well with jumping right into the story without excessive exposition, allowing viewers to take in the facts on the ground, to borrow the military parlance. The characters (mostly) unself-consciously make reference to the aliens and the invasion and through inference you get a good sense of what came before and what the humans are moving towards. Unfortunately, when it comes to Tom’s sons this is to the characters’ detriment and it’s tough to warm to the two actors.
The production quality is equally hit or miss. In far shots, the aliens–the humans call them “skitters”–are serviceable. However up close or in extreme motion the CG is problematic, with the occasional proportion issue and (unintentionally) gangly movements. There’s nothing glaring or out and out bad, just some rough moments. Ontario stands in for Massachusetts, but viewers are unlikely to hear many accents that will pull them out of the show.
Again, the series doesn’t have the strongest start but with the heavy lifting of setting the stage out of the way, it is able to get somewhat better footing in subsequent episodes.