We’ve all seen what alien invasions can do. They’re often electrically volatile, frequently misunderstood, and occasionally heartwarming. No two are exactly alike: some expose the tyranny of men, and some provide a long-sought friendship for the handicapped (as well as some heavy product placement). With the recent influx of post-apocalyptic fiction, we’re seeing a lot of alien invasions in a lot of new ways.
But Falling Skies is a little behind its time. There’s almost nothing I saw in last night’s two hour premiere on TNT that I haven’t seen in any sci-fi or disaster film of the 1990s. The pilot was set at a Boston military base filled with civilian soldiers (the prologue explains that the aliens wiped out the armed forces, as well as a great deal of society, forcing the remaining adults and youths to join the revolution), focusing primarily on Noah Wyle’s Professor Tom Mason: a textbook hero with a case of “I just want my kid back.” He’s a brain among deep-voiced soldiers—a former history professor attempting (or, at least the show is attempting) to use his background to defeat the aliens. He has lost his wife and his middle son has been kidnapped and roboticized by the aliens. And there seems to be something going on between Wyle and Moon Goodblood’s character, the show’s lead female, whose only discernible quality is her degree in medicine and her budding attraction to (and from) Wyle’s character.
Wyle’s oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy), is the sour but good-natured teen sidekick to his father, bent just as strongly on recovering his kid brother Ben. Just in case the adults didn’t promise enough sexual tension, Hal has been thrust amidst an old fashioned Betty-and-Veronica love triangle. His sharp-tongued girlfriend has nothing but harsh things to say about a sweet and helpful devout Catholic who clearly has eyes for Hal—and spouts the good word of the Bible three times a scene (I wonder which one will stick him with?).
The second half of the premiere shifted from Man vs. Aliens to Man vs. Man, when a hostage situation victimizing both Mason men and several of their allies erupted. The leader of this rebellious band was your archetypal antihero: a hardened intellectual who references literature while drinking a beer while holding a rifle to another guy's head. Naturally, he joined the “good guys” at the end of the episode—but can he be trusted? Yes. He will prove to be. Because this show runs on the fuel of age-old formula, and it clearly (and ironically) sanctifies the intelligent.
Among the few things that did provoke interest: a biology professor character wonders why six-legged aliens have created two-legged robots? Wyle suggests that it would be to better intimidate Earthlings psychologically, but the show brushes this off as a throwaway piece of dialogue that will inevitably be proven wrong. The prologue suggests that humans held off on attacking the aliens in the assumption that the aliens had come in peace, followed by an immediate dismissal by a child of these intentions. Was this just to further villainize the invaders? Here’s hoping that it’s a subtle piece of foreshadowing, but all my instincts tell me otherwise. Finally, my favorite scene of the night: a group of humans gathered around a dying alien, silently watching as it passed into infinity. The scene was provocative, both with emotional substance and acknowledgement that something happening at the moment was eventually going to prove important. But this moment alone offered these sentiments in a two hour premiere.
After The Walking Dead wowed me with a genuinely creative zombie series, I had high hopes for Falling Skies. But last night, I received little more than hollow characters forced into definition by run-of-the-mill scenarios and aliens that seem exclusively focused on shooting and enslaving. So, we can keep watching. We can see Tom Mason rescue his son Ben and bed the ethnically-ambiguous pediatrician. We can see Hal leave the grips of his atheistic girlfriend and fall into the loving embrace of faith. We can see the intellects out-hero the soldiers and defeat—or perhaps, come to understand—the aliens. And we can see things go back to normal. Nothing to tell the king about.