STARRING: Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy, Jessy Schram, Maxim Knight

2011, 120 Minutes, Directed by:
Carl Franklin, Greg Beeman

With sci-fi TV shows dropping dead all over the place like Tauntauns in a Hothian ice storm one desperately wants Falling Skies, TNT’s new science fiction show executive produced by Steven Spielberg, to work . . .

The economic recession hasn’t been good for science fiction on TV. There may be a need for pure escapism in times of economic hardship, but sci-fi shows require bigger budgets than “normal” TV shows. After all, it is much more expensive to film a series set aboard the USS Enterprise than the single pub setting of, let’s say, Cheers. Producers need to fork out for elaborate special effects, costumes and production designs.

This year has seen the demise of several high-profile SF shows such as Caprica, V and StarGate Universe. Sure, some of them may not be missed – I haven’t heard anyone complain about the V remake biting the dust and Caprica somehow never lived up to its brilliant pilot episode – but the thought of there not being a single show on TV featuring a starship captain is a depressing one to genre fans.

So along comes Falling Skies, marking actor Noah Wyle’s return to the small screen six years after the demise of ER. He is joined amongst others by Moon Bloodgood and Will Patton, both of whom will be familiar to post-apocalyptic movie fans. Bloodgood starred in Terminator Salvation and Patton was the bad guy in Kevin Costner’s 1997 The Postman epic.

That both of these similarly themed movies underperformed at the box office probably bodes ill for Falling Skies, which can be described as Terminator Salvation meets The Postman or perhaps Terminator Salvation, but without the terminators and with aliens instead.

Falling Skies is set in the aftermath of a full-scale alien invasion and follows a group of human survivors as they try to both avoid capture and fight the aliens at the same time.

"It's Terminator Salvation, but without the terminators and with aliens instead!"

Wyle is a small-town history teacher who goes on about smaller armies throughout history managing to defeat larger opponents a lot, but somehow without managing to mention Vietnam. His character has several sons, one of whom has been captured by the aliens and is now under their mind control. Like many modern shows such as Lost, StarGate Universe and Jericho (another doomed sci-fi show), Falling Skies has a myriad of characters while faceless extras mill around in the background.

We never get to see the actual invasion. Instead the show cleverly tells the story of the invasion as seen through the eyes of children and their subsequent drawings. The accountants must have loved this move by the screenwriters since it must have shaved a huge chunk off the special effects budget!

Unfortunately it isn’t only cash that is in short supply when it comes to sci-fi TV nowadays. Imagination also seems to be in short supply. Falling Skies dully regurgitates every alien invasion / post-apocalypse cliché in the screenwriter’s handbook. Especially coming so short on the heels of the likes of Battle: Los Angeles and Skyline, Falling Skies comes across as particularly derivative.

It is however how you tell the tale and not the tale itself, right? In this department Falling Skies also comes up short as the show seems resolutely determined not to take any chances as, let’s say, SGU and Caprica did. Falling Skies brings up some issues – military command vs. civilian rights and “oh, isn’t it ironic that someone is invading the Americans for a change?” (that Vietnam omission is quite telling). It however does nothing with any of this, preferring to play it safe and focusing on the soap opera elements of the story.

Sure, you can argue that SGU and Caprica both failed because they were probably not mainstream enough for mass audiences, but we say that if you are making a doomed SF show you might as well take a few chances because, yes, we think Falling Skies is probably doomed too. We’d be surprised if it makes a second season. It was simply not compelling or interesting enough to make one go, “gosh, I’m definitely going to check out future episodes!”

(Signs aren’t too hopeful for the upcoming Terra Nova, also executive produced by Steven Spielberg, either. Judging from the trailer it looks set to be too much of a soap opera and an unoriginal mix of Jurassic Park and Avatar, the same mix which sinks Falling Skies.)


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