Sunday, June 19, 2011

TNT's "Falling Skies" a modestly successfully alien invasion drama

Though I admired many bits and pieces of TNT's "Falling Skies," premiering tonight at 9, while watching the pilot episode, one thought kept recurring in my head: it's sort of like "The Walking Dead," but with aliens. Not only does it have the same basic concept -- a ragtag band of survivors unite against a seemingly unstoppable force that's destroying the world -- it has the same earnestness and the same long-boring-stretches-of-dialogue-punctuated-by-tremendous-violence pacing.
And the musical score isn't nearly as good. Still, "Falling Skies" is a decent bit of summer entertainment, and certainly above other recent attempts at alien invasion dramas, such as "V" (which I checked out of after two episodes). 

"Skies" comes from executive producer Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks Television. Noah Wyle of "ER" fame plays a Tom Mason, a former professor who, in the wake of the alien's arrival, ends up as second-in-command of an army fighting the "skitters" (colorful slang for "creepy aliens"). He has three sons, one of whom has been taken by the aliens, and is grieving the loss of his wife.
Others in his survivalist camp include a pediatrician named Ann (Moon Bloodgood) and his commanding officer Weaver (Will Patton). Yes, Tom's group of fighters is racially diverse and even manages to include an  attractive blonde. Yes, the survivors back at camp include a young woman who is always praying, earning scorn from her cynical fellow survivors. Yes, Weaver is a surly military type who constantly butts heads with the more sympathetic Tom.
Not a lot of new ground is broken here, but "Falling Skies" has its pleasures. It's predictably well-produced, with the alien effects far exceeding the special effects on other TNT dramas (such as those horrible CGI explosions on "Leverage"). I also really liked the opening sequence, in which the events of the alien invasion are depicted through the drawings of traumatized children. The action sequences are strong, and I actually found myself jumping once or twice when a stray alien leaped out at our heroes.
The writing and acting are also fairly competent.Wyle is an appealing hero, appropriately charismatic and likable. He also is a performer with a sense of humor, which I appreciated. Too often, sci-fi dramas tend to be completely humorless. This show actually has a running joke in which Tom the former history professor is constantly comparing the battle between humans and aliens to the Revolutionary War and other historical events, as his obviously bored band of fighters stares at him unmoved.
Moon Bloodgood is also decent here. Though she's appeared in numerous TV and film projects, until now, she's mainly been known for her beauty and a name that sounds like one of those CAPTCHA phrases you enter in a web site to prove you're not a robot. But she imbues Ann with strength and intelligence and makes a decent leading lady.
"Falling Skies" is slow in spots, and has a few too many "heart-warming" moments in which Tom bonds with his kids over birthday wishes and makeshift lacrosse games. But it's a solid summer drama with enough thrilling moments to keep me interested.

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