I’d been really looking forward to TNT’s Falling Skies, since I heard about it a few months back. So there I was, last night, interested to see what the premiere would be like.
Wanna know what I thought? Read on…
Anyway, the series is about a group of humans who are trying to survive and rebel about 6 months after an alien invasion. They don’t know what the aliens want, why they came, or how to get rid of the large craft that the aliens are using as bases above major cities. They’re not even entirely sure how to effectively and consistently kill the aliens, though they’ve had some success doing so.
Included in the alien weapon repertoire are 2-legged human-size robots that the rebels call “mechs.” Remember the original 1987 Robocop? They look sort of like the RC prototype that blasts that dude in the corporate board room.
There are also six-legged (spider-legged) green walrus-faced creatures that stand about waist or chest high (the rebels call them “skitters”), and then there’s whatever pilots the fighter ships that patrol. An added creepy plot aspect is that the aliens seem to want human children, and they clamp these icky-looking creatures onto the kids’ backs, so it looks like they have an external arachnid-type of spine. Once a kid is “harnessed” like this, he or she becomes a zombie, under complete alien control. If you try to remove this creature, which looks to me like it clamps into the skin and injects part of itself into the brainstem, the host generally dies. It sort of reminded me of the aliens that clamped onto the faces of humans in the Alien series, only in reverse, and after those things planted their eggs, they left the human host. One of Noah Wyle’s sons is harnessed. That adds a tense element to the plot.
The thing I like about this series is that it’s dark. Apocalypses (apocalypsi?) are not fun, they’re not like video games, they’re not all “la la la let’s blast zombies/aliens/whatever.” It’s post-apocalyptic brutal. 80-90 percent of humans have been wiped out, and those that remain are waging what seems a near-impossible battle. That seems realistic to me. There’s a constant struggle for food, water, ammo, and an additional struggle to keep despair at bay. The cast is great thus far, and the added tensions between characters adds another dimension of realism.
Things that don’t work for me are a few of the plot elements. The pacing is slow. It started slow, and the rebel forces don’t seem organized or clear about what their objectives are or what ultimately they’d like to do. I understand that basic survival means you need a lot of flexibility in your plans, but it seemed a bit unrealistic that there wouldn’t be a basic plan in place. It also seemed strange that the patrolling alien ships wouldn’t pick up on a base camp of 200 people. Regardless, the people worked pretty well on the move, but again, in terms of pacing, it was frustrating watching the first 45 minutes trying to figure out what exactly the plan was.
The aliens have been on Earth for six months or more, at this point, and yet the rebels don’t know much about them. Maybe I’m being a little hard on them, but it seems logical to me that you might want to find out as much as you could about your enemy’s movement patterns (is there a pattern to patrols, e.g.?) and biology in order to devise the most effective way of killing or stopping them without losing tons of your own ammo or fighters. I didn’t get the sense that anybody beyond a biology teacher at the rebel camp had even pondered this, though a foreshadow clue emerged from a discussion he had with Noah Wyle’s character. Why, if the skitters have 6 legs, would they design robots with two? In other words, there seems to be yet another group of aliens that we haven’t seen yet that might be calling the shots. That intrigued me.
The guy who seems to have done a lot of experimentation with figuring out how to kill skitters and mechs is the leader of a band of outlaws. Dangerous, but his brain needs to be picked for more info. I expect that will happen in future episodes.
Wyle’s character — he was a history prof before all this went down — brings up a lot of historical examples with regard to how a smaller force has been able to bring down a larger force. But everybody seems to brush him off, which to me is either really lame or a really lame plot device. I mean, seriously, when you are confronted with complete extinction, don’t you think you’d consider all kinds of ideas to battle the exterminators? Wyle mentioned examples from Greek history and more recent history (WWI) as possible ways to bring down the alien HQ ships set up over cities, but everybody kind of laughed at him. Seriously? A guy suggests that maybe they ought to be thinking in “Trojan horse” terms to get explosives inside one of those big things, and he gets laughed at?
Something else that didn’t work: I presumed that “2-hour pilot” meant that you’d get an episode that was designed as a smooth, 2-hour show without abrupt transitions. Think AMC’s premiere of Walking Dead. That was a 2-hour movie. TNT cobbled together 1-hour episodes to make a “2-hour program” and called it “the premiere.” Clunky transition between the two. Ah, well.
But ultimately, I think what’s going to sink this series for me is the seemingly neverending commercial breaks. The irony here is that TNT ran an announcement as the program started that there would be “limited commercial breaks.” Really? I counted a break every 4-5 minutes of programming. It’s extremely difficult to watch a tense, dark series like this with fluffy commercial breaks interrupting the pacing every 4 minutes. I think I might just wait for this one on DVD.
Oh, and as an aside, the National Geographic Channel ran an hour-long program on surviving and waging guerrilla warfare in event of an alien invasion. I’m thinking Falling Skies could’ve taken a few more tips from that. It’s called When Aliens Attack, if you’re interested.
Otherwise, strong characters (though, typically, one of the cool characters I liked died in the first episode and yep, he was black. C’mon, people! GET PAST THAT ICKY TROPE!), creepy aliens, dangerous survivors, human drama, and little gore/bloodshed which is actually kind of refreshing. So yeah, I’ll probably finish this series, but again, not on TNT. I can’t take the commercials.
But for TV post-apocalyptic sci-fi, it’s got some good stuff going for it.