Alien Autopsy: Falling Skies’ First Season Probed
Please expect minor spoilers for Falling Skies’ first season in this report.
Falling Skies made its debut on TNT on June 19th, drawing an impressive 5.9 million viewers with its opening episodes Live and Learn and The Armory. There was a lot riding on the success of these initial episodes, considering the show is produced by Dreamworks Television and features Steven Spielberg acting as executive producer.
According to TNT Falling Skies takes place in the chaotic aftermath of an alien attack that has left most of the world completely incapacitated. Tom Mason (Wyle), a Boston history professor and the father of three sons, must put his extensive knowledge of military history to the test as second in command of a regiment of resistance fighters protecting a large group of civilian survivors. Falling Skies also stars Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Drew Roy, Maxim Knight, Connor Jessup, Colin Cunningham, Sarah Sanguin Carter, Seychelle Gabriel, Mpho Koaho and Peter Shinkoda.
The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely, as the season finale ended with Tom Mason headed off to parts unknown in an alien spaceship, watched by over 5.6 million viewers, a figure that almost matches that of the season opener.
Steven Spielberg is without doubt a seasoned director and producer. However his track record of producing successful scifi for the small screen is patchy, and the results are often inflated, slow moving and humorless affairs, Earth 2, and Taken being two examples. So how does Falling Skies compare?
Overall, the first season was well mapped out, with surprises and revelations carefully distributed throughout the 10 episodes. Falling Skies must be commended for this as it’s something we’re seeing less of in new genre shows lately, and one of the reasons some shows don’t survive past their freshman season. There is a real sense here that there is a well developed plot in the works, and that the audience is in capable story-telling hands.
The visual effects, including deserted city streets, giant motherships on the horizon and the aliens themselves are similarly solid and believable. Both the sad-faced Skitters, their mysterious long-limbed masters and even the metal mechs really do look the part, although we could do without the chorus of ominous humming that accompanies their every approach.
Where Falling Skies falls down however is with its pacing and characters. Action scenes are diluted by too many before and after scenes of Tom having a heart to heart with one, two or all three of his sons, inevitably ending in a manly hug.
There is also a nagging impression that each episode has been meticulously plotted in a supreme effort to carefully balance the human drama with the science fiction elements. It is this over-reliance on the same cautious formula that doesn’t allow for surprises in the storytelling or for the characters to engage the audience in a more meaningful way. The result is often another flat cookie from the episode-cutter.
One spark of excitement comes from Colin Cunningham, who plays ex-con John Pope. Some fans have already started to liken Pope to Sawyer from Lost. The similarities are there. Like Sawyer, Pope is a shifty character with a dirty past, who rubs people up the wrong way, and can’t seem to make friends. We get the feeling there may just be a heart of gold beating behind that skitter claw-decorated chest if only there was an opportunity for Pope to prove himself.
However, unlike Lost’s Sawyer, Pope is never given the screen time to show his vulnerabilities, or make mistakes or be repentant for his actions. Falling Skies relies on Tom and his sons, and occasionally Doctor Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) for its emotional quotient and the supporting characters are mere window dressing.
Although it would be refreshing to see a loosening of the reins in the show’s second season which might allow the audience to engage a little more with the characters or to see something fresh in terms of story-telling, it is unlikely to happen. Falling Skies’ viewing figures support the argument that its audience is largely happy with the show’s direction. Dreamworks Television must be liking those season finale numbers.
Falling Skies returns to our screens in 2012.