Friday, May 27, 2011

Preview: Falling Skies

When the story of early 21st Century television is written it won’t consist entirely of indistinguishable reality shows featuring publicity hungry no-marks. Not entirely.

There’s also a fine tradition of  big high-concept TV series being maintained. We’ve got a couple over here – Sherlock, the rebooted Doctor Who series, Spooks, that kind of thing.

The US of course did it bigger, better and first. The trend really kicked off with shows such as 24 and Lost.  Now we are almost routinely encouraged to get excited about ambitious new TV dramas. Some of them, like The Event, prove to be non-events that leave us high and dry waiting for a conclusion. Some, such as The Walking Dead, are so great that we never want the end of the world to stop.

The next big thing we’re being asked to get excited about is Falling Skies. The promotional material makes great play of the fact that Stephen Spielberg is one of the show’s producers.

It shows.

I was invited to a screening of the first episode today, and the first thing you hear is the voice of one of those lovable American stage school moppets that Spielberg employs with such tiresome regularity.

Luckily, the next thing you hear is an explosion, some gunfire, and the eerie chatter of some sort of alien particle weapon.

And that’s pretty much how it carries on.

Falling Skies is set in the aftermath of a catastrophic alien invasion. It’s Independence Day plus 1.

Noah Wyle – the likeable and seemingly ageless young doctor from ER – plays a likeable and seemingly ageless professor of military history. He has been drafted into the somewhat under equipped human resistance as they fight a rearguard action against the evil alien conquerors.

There’s none of that coy ‘slow reveal’ nonsense with Falling Skies. We see an alien almost as soon as the show starts. They’re nasty looking multi-legged jobs along the lines of Sully’s boss in Monsters Inc. 

The aliens also have a big old intergalactic oil rig base affair that sort of hangs around like it's in District 9, some spiffy flying vehicles, and ‘mechs’ – robotic enforcers that look like a slimmed-down ED-209 from Robocop.

Oh, and to make them more evil they don’t kill everyone. They just kill the adults and enslave the kids with some sort of rubber stick on spinal column along the lines of the classic Heinlein SF tale The Puppet Masters.

Moon Bloodgood from Terminator Salvation is on familiar ground in the wrecked environments. Most of the other actors are half-familiar faces from US TV drama.

 On the basis of one episode I recommend it highly. The effects are more Dr Who than big league Hollywood quality but as with The Walking Dead the drama is more in the characters' reactions to the invasion than the invasion itself.

I’ll be watching it. Hope you do too.

Falling Skies starts in the UK at 9pm on July 5th. It’s on FX.

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