Title: Falling Skies
Genre: Family SciFi
Watched: Late October, 2013
Summary: V meets The Road
Steven Speilberg produced TV has a checkered history, most being cheesy and family oriented. But he keeps on trying, and I have to admire him for pushing Science Fiction more into the mainstream (Earth 2, Seaquest, Terra Nova, Falling Skies, Under the Dome, Extant and more).
Falling Skies is without a doubt the best of the above (excepting Extant which isn’t out yet). It has the family feel of Terra Nova, but is far less monster of the week. This is post apocalyptic fiction, and begins six months AFTER an alien invasion pretty much wiped out everyone. The survivors are scraping by, fighting aliens when they can, scavenging, and mostly just surviving. The story concentrates on the Mason family: a dad and three sons who have managed to keep together (barely) in this new world. In overall feel, the show borrows heavily from the zombie survival and alien invasion genres. It even reminds me at times of The Last of Us — only far, far less bleak.
For TV, and given the big scope of a ruined America and several different types of nasty aliens (some flesh, some mechanical), the show looks pretty impressive. The feel is a little cheesier than Continuum and its slick future Canada, but far more ambitious given that every shot features a destroyed and trash-covered Eastern-seaboard. There is that slight unintentional camp and softness that is the hallmark of the family drama. Falling Skies dishes out some punishment to its characters — people die (or worse) — but the atmosphere isn’t one of perpetual fear and dread like The Last of Us or the Road.
Ultimately, this show works, and is held together by a solid set of believable characters and likable performances. Noah Wyle works as former history professor turned military man. I’m less of a fan of his superior officer, Captain Weaver, but the teens do a good job: his two sons Hal and Ben, and a complex triangle of blondes Margaret and Karen. Biker badass turned monster-hunter John Pope is quite amusing — even if not entirely consistent — and manages to imbue a role that could be cheesy with considerable charisma.
The aliens themselves, their goals and types, are a bit opaque. We have mechs, skitters (at least 2 factions), harnessed humans, fishheads, and in season 3, the Volm. I actually like that things weren’t clear, but as secrets are revealed, I didn’t always buy the writer’s choices. They borrow more heavily from pop-culture aliens than from any deep reading of the literary genre (which features considerably more sophisticated modeling of possible invasion reasons — like Gregory Benford’s incredible Galactic Center series). The show uses the mechanic of alien bio-device infiltration to create what is essentially a zombie mechanic, and at times a “turned” mechanic. This is familiar territory, particularly for Buffy fans like myself. Somehow, it all feels a bit light in Falling Skies. Maybe it’s a tonal thing. Despite the dark happenings, and blue-gray color palette, the show usually maintains a fairly upbeat mood.
Season 1-2 run together seamlessly, but with season 3 there is one of those disconcerting season breaks and then a fairly different balance of power. A new alien race is introduced and the whole feel is slightly different, perhaps more serious. I felt a little less engaged during this third outing even though intellectually I appreciated the effort to mix it up.
Overall, I have to give Falling Skies a B+. It tries hard. It’s more ambitious and even more successful than most Science Fiction television. The writing, acting, and production are all solid. Somehow it falls short of greatness — or even of breathing new life into the genre — still, it’s well worth a watch.