Falling Skies (2011 TV series) review…

Falling Skies (2011 TV series) review after the break…

Falling Skies (2011 TV series) review…

In 2005, Steven Spielberg released his re-telling of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Apparently, he must have decided that, at some point, he wasn’t quite finished with aliens invading our planet because he’s the executive producer (out of curiosity, what do “executive” producers do that regular producers don’t do?) for a new television series called “Falling Skies.” I’ve only seen episodes 1 and 2 and those are the episodes I will be reviewing here.

H.P. Lovecraft became famous for using the story mechanic of “Omnipotent super-being toying with mortal man and always winning.”

When Steven Spielberg eventually dies, film historians will most likely realize that his cinematic claim to fame was “Involve the family.” Spielberg, regardless of the script, always seems to enjoy throwing the family into his adventures. Indiana Jones fought the Nazis with his absent-minded father in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Tom Cruise takes his whiny daughter and annoying son on a refugee hike during “War of the Worlds.” Indiana Jones and his out-of-wedlock son fight the Soviets in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.” A group of dear friends, including an older-younger brother pair, need to save their family homes during a pirate treasure hunt in “The Goonies.” Need more examples? Do the research yourself.

There’s no exception here with “Falling Skies,” who sees a history teacher and his two sons constantly avoid a difficult but not infallible alien invasion. A third son of the history teacher’s has apparently been taken over by the aliens, forced to wear an alien creature affixed to the back of a person’s spine that render’s that person a slave to the aliens. A female veterinarian slated to be the history teacher’s love interest and a gruff but ultimately fair military commander rounds out the initial cast although, judging by the events of the two episodes viewed, other characters will also have occasional significant roles as well.

The premise is certainly worthy of an initial look – What sci-fi fan couldn’t resist a near-future post-apocalyptic struggle of humans against an overpowering alien force?

Yet, for all of it’s potential, “Falling Skies” has some serious deficiencies that are endemic of modern sci-fi shows.

I am not an audience for what I will dub the “COMPELLING. HUMAN. DRAMA.” gimmick that a lot of modern science fiction shows currently employ. I understand the gimmick’s more practical side fairly well – Science fiction is expensive to film. There are props, special effects, computer effects, multiple camera angles, stunt doubles… Even a “simple” car chase is a complex sequence to capture on film, never mind the kind of cinematic-caliber action that a person might expect in order to captivate them to watch a television show. Movies are only two hours long and have a budget of millions – A television show of multiple episodes with a far more pressing set of deadlines would be hard-pressed to compete against the kind of action sequences that a television show could produce. Therefore, it’s only wise to “water down” a series with lots and lots of talking and “character development” in between the science fiction or horror elements of a particular show.

I don’t watch an alien invasion show, though, so I can watch two people talk about how much they miss vacuuming their old home. Yes, it is appreciated to have a plot and a developed storyline in a production but there’s a difference between developed characters and the laborious “COMPELLING. HUMAN. DRAMA.” that a lot of modern science fiction television shows use. It’s the difference between having a little cream in your coffee and having a little coffee in your cream. If I want to watch “COMPELLING. HUMAN. DRAMA.,” I’ll watch “Masterpiece Theater.” If I want to watch aliens blow up cars and buildings, I’d like to do so without, say, fast-forwarding the DVR through two less-than-scintillating conversations meant to establish the heartfelt emotions of a young couple.

There’s just a “generic” feeling about the series that is elusive, as though the script demands such inclusiveness as to dilute any amount of personal attachment. It feels very ensemble, as though the television show is attempting to trick you into thinking there’s a main actor when, really, it is a cadre of supporting characters. Are you an older person? There’s a kindly old couple that occasionally shows up and the military commander is old. Are you female? There’s a bunch of women, young and older, Caucasian and otherwise. African-Americans? Yup, got ’em. Asians? Got them, too. Little kids? Of course. Teenagers / young adults? Naturally (It’s a sci-fi show!). It’s like a buffet – There’s a little something for everyone! The advantage to this tactic is simple – “But, Grandma, you’ll like this series – It has old people, just like you!” After all, how many young boys would watch a science-fiction television series featuring only young girls? Or how many Asians would watch such a series featuring only African Americans?

Yet, in it’s attempt to capture as broad an audience as possible, such a tactic also dilutes the emotional impact of the end result. There’s a reason why you employ a “main actor” – That’s the attention of the series. The more diverse the cast, the less potent the emotional attachment. If your favorite character is only on screen for less then a third of an episode, how compelling is it to still watch? Put simply – How little science fiction in a television show can there be before labeling it a “science fiction” show becomes laughable? Likewise with the characters.

While “Falling Skies” certainly has an appealing premise, I’m hard-pressed to compel myself to watch any further. I understand the tactics used in modern science fiction television shows are quite popular – People still bemoan the demise of series such as “Firefly” and “Battlestar Galactica” (not the classic but the one where the Cylons have cleavage). Yet there’s a reason why cult classics such as John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” and “The Thing” are still popular today – Because they offer an intimacy that is lost on this modern age of science fiction. They didn’t have the most diverse cast or the most deepest philosophical discussions. What those offerings did have was an earnest to entertain. They didn’t depend on story arcs involving relationships and betrayals, they depended on storyline.

There’s an old saying in scriptwriting that goes, “The more you add, the more you take away.” “Falling Skies” might want to consider that saying in earnest.

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