Falling Skies: My Sci-Fi Guilty PleasureMay 10, 2014
My heart may belong to horror, but the world of science fiction is not far behind. While I enjoy a big mindless special effect’s laden blockbuster as much as the next person, my expectations for sci-fi TV shows are even lower than that.
So many sci-fi shows on TV the last ten years or so have never made it past season one and if they did, they really shouldn’t have.
When word reached my ears about a Steven Spielberg produced TV show called Falling Skies, I mentally dismissed it without thinking twice. No offence to Spielberg, but I figured he would try and make it too slick and too neat, not at all what I was interested in seeing.
However, as the start of the series neared, I started reading articles and seeing trailers that suggested my initial assessment might be wrong. That’s how I found myself in front of the TV (or computer screen in my case) on June 19, 2011 to watch the premiere of Falling Skies.
Wow. B-grade sci fi at it’s finest, and I was hooked.
I never expected the series to try to look so dirty and despondent. The wallowing in self pity and remorse was very welcome and unexpected. The story takes place six months after a devastating alien invasion. Our planet Earth has been brought to its knees with frightening speed and efficiency. Ninety percent of the population had been killed, the military all but destroyed as well as our technology so yeah, you could say things looked grim.
This is where the resistance begins. Survivors band together and led by history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and retired U.S. Army Captain Dan Weaver (Will Patton), they begin to fight back. Professor Mason is in search of his missing son, which soon leads to the discovery that the aliens are kidnapping children between the ages of eight and eighteen and attaching some kind of harness to them to keep them under their control.
The children are controlled by six legged, green skinned, spider-like aliens lovingly called ‘Skitters’. They in turn seem to control attack drones known as ‘Mechs’. The big bosses, known as the Overlords or ‘Eshpheni’ control everyone, but to what end no one seems to know. It is a good setup and season one accomplishes its goals of providing some back story, some ‘kids in the sandbox’ moments on deciding who is leading as well as decent action and special effects.
There was no surprise here with Spielberg’s use of family as one of the main storylines in the show. Tom Mason has three sons, Hal Mason (Drew Roy), Matt Mason (Maxim Knight) and the child who was harnessed, Ben Mason (Connor Jessup). They all get story arcs of their own, although some are much more important than others. Not only that but you have the apocalypses version of a gang called the Berserkers and it’s aggravating but scrappy leader John Pope (Colin Cunningham) butting heads with the organized survivors.
One of the things that season two improves upon is making the show even darker. Mission failures, betrayals and a lot nighttime shoots help the overall feeling to be one of defeat. It seems the humans can’t catch a break and are getting their heads handed to them at every turn. However, rumors of survivors gathering and organizing in Charleston offers up hope and the group, who call themselves the Second Mass, pull together and march on towards the city. Upon reaching it, they are surprised to find a sense of organization as well as meet some familiar faces. However, not everything is as it seems and it becomes even more stressful with not really knowing who to trust.
The season two finale introduces a new alien species and as we waltz into season three, a brand new threat, not to mention the disappearance of Tom Mason’s girlfriend Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) and their newborn daughter.
The species, called the Volm, arrive with the startling news that they are here to help. The Eshpheni are building giant towers to provide a defensive network that the humans could never defeat, so the Volm need to build a cannon to destroy the towers and allow the their ships to land. The spokesperson for the Volm named Cochise (Doug Jones) convinces the Second Mass to work with them to this end. However, even though they are successful, things are never that easy, are they?
Season three ends with the Volm asking Tom Mason to take the humans and re-locate to Brazil as they are no longer any use to them. Anne and the baby are also recovered but not without another surprise.
What I do need to do is comment on are the ‘not so good’ parts of the show. At times, the acting is… well, it’s bad. There is no escaping that. The actors seem wooden and the lines just fall flat. Part of the blame falls on the writers with their insistence of writing dialogue and speeches that comes off as too sappy or totally out of place. As well, some of the story arcs just seemed to disappear. This might be do to the fact that once they were filmed and aired, the powers that be realized that the storyline just needed to die a quiet death and go away. The show tries hard to balance the family drama with the action and sci-fi but doesn’t always succeed. Too many times it gets too preachy or the drama part just feels unfinished or unwanted.
Saying all that, there is something very compelling about Falling Skies. Thanks to Spielberg and a surprisingly large fan base, more money was put into the show after season one to make the aliens and special effects much more believable.
Some of the dialogue and dramatic situations may not have a passing grade, but the gritty and depressing look to the show gives it a sense of realism that helps you root for the humans to pick themselves up off the ground and fight.
Falling Skies will never be mistaken for high end drama or cutting edge sci-fi, but on most occasions it does manage to meld the two together and make some entertaining television. It also benefits from a summer timeslot when most big shows are on the shelf until the fall.
I recommend you check it out, especially if you are a lover of B-grade sci-fi like me.
Season four begins June 22/2014 on TNT.
This article was written for publication on the GCE by Jeff Fountain