Falling Skies – Pilot
Initially I wrote this program off kind of quickly; the combination of cast (Wyle and Bloodgood aren’t known for their stunning dramas), channel (neither for that matter are TNT) and pulpy genre concept ( given that failures like The Event, V and Flashforward were still airing / on the mind at the time) soured me from the moment of the shows announcement. However, as we near its premiere date (Sunday night, or Monday for us Aussies) I began to hear more and more about the show that got me interested in giving it a watch.
First of all is the name Spielberg. Now obviously his involvement was invoked quite often in the announcement and it didn’t ecite me then because his name is thrown around TV so much these days, that in terms of marketing it is almost the equivalent of selling your show as ‘In Colour!’. Though Spielberg’s prior attempts to foster sci-fi serii have been unsuccessful, he hasn’t been a complete televisual failure; he did after all bring us both The Pacific and A Band of Brothers, two (based on what I have seen of the latter) of the best – and really the only – war shows that the screen has seen. Thankfully then Falling Skies isn’t a Sci-Fi show, thankfully it is instead a spiritual successor to those esteemed programs.
Now those of you in the know, those following the show from the beginning of production, can skip this paragraph as it is just synopsis. Falling Skies tells the story of an alien invasion, but its not interested in showing us the secret sleeper cells, massive battles or Emmerich-esque destruction sequences that we have already seen before, instead it begins some months after the aliens have taken control of Earth and follows the few survivors from there as they try and make it through each day in this new world.
Now that may not sound like a war series on first sight but the show is taking the familiar story and looking at it in a new, authentic light. The survivors fight against the aliens with real-life military tactics rather than slate techno-babble and this makes the admittedly lower budget battles that we do see all the more interesting. The two-hour pilot is written by Robert Rodat of Saving Private Ryan fame and Graham Yost, show-runner of Justified (and the second episode is very Elmore Leonard, lots of stand-offs and tension) and staff writer on The Pacific, so they know how to tell these kinds of stories and tell them well. I’m not sure if those two are also involved in later scripts, but I doubt that the quality will drop dramatically from here.
Though my next comparison may cause some to worry about such a drop-off, the show is also a lot like The Walking Dead in a number of ways – well it’s a lot like zombie serials in a number of ways and that’s the only one that comes to mind – as so much of the drama stems not from this big, external threat but rather from the conflicts within the band of survivors. There is a disconcerting desolation to this post-apocalyptic dystopia, an empty quiet, that is not familiar to TV Sci-Fi and this is a lot of what makes it feel fresh. Though there is plenty of action no doubt, this is not and AMC venture, it will be fast-paced.
Though the aliens and the war elements are the most blatantly influenced ideas the series also attempts to re-create his trademark sense of family and character focus but for me this is where the show starts to fall apart a little. Though it seems in such stark contrast to what we are now accustomed to Speilberg’s family units were supposed to be subtle sections of his films; they were there to bring either reality or respite depending on what was needed to counterbalance the movies main stream. Here, however, those moments are jarringly shoved upon us, the show goes out of its way – bending both the premise and the plotting – in order to fit them in, but when forced the scenes simply do not work. Skies is in this regard almost an inversion of Super-8, a film that provided the familial fantastically but faulted with the non-terrestrial.
I’m hesitant to get excited over a pilot after seeing the last few amazing ones quickly turn to dust in the networks hands ( The Killing, The Walking Dead and to a lesser extent The Chicago Code) but even so I don’t think that this is a show that would ever really amaze anyone, but it is likely to entertain more than a few. It will most likely be disposable, but it should also be a bit of fresh fun. I for one am looking forward to seeing episode three in a few weeks time, though it may be advisable to save this one up and watch it as a burst (if you are so willed).