TV REVIEW: Falling Skies Series 1 Ep. 1: ‘Live and Learn’

So, the first of Steven Spielbergs dual-pronged assault on our TV screens this year arrived in the UK on tuesday night. Not the one with Dinosaurs, the one with Aliens, Falling Skies is best described as a post-invasion family action-drama, which is a bit of a mouthful. So how was it?

In all honesty, I think this show is going to divide people. In some ways it is smart, and interesting, and compelling, and in others its clunky, derivative and indistinct. And how you view the balance of these two parts, and how they settle in over this first season, may be the test of success or failure for the show.

First the good. This is episode 1, and it’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of its backstory. And the good news is, it does  a decent job of balancing telling you what has gone on and leaving a lot unsaid. It’s opening section, told by a child with the aid of theraputic scribblings, describe an Earth taken ‘swiftly, and without error’ be alien invaders that appear to killing the grown-ups and “harnessing” the children. The survivors are grouped in increasingly small militia bands attempting to evade these grisly fates. It pretty much keeps it that simple and I think thats a good decision; the aliens seem powerful yet thinly spread, so most of the action is a slightly-over-familiar move through abandoned small-town America in search of shelter and food.

That said, in the occasions where the aliens do show up (which come in two flavours, Skitterers and Mechs, which seem sufficiently diverse they may actually be two species, but pencil that in as wild speculation) they seem pretty fearsome. The Skitterers look very alien, which I liked, and the Mechs are a little bit “generic battlesuit” if you’ve seen/read a lot of SF but move nicely in the environment and seem refreshingly fearsome in combat. The action sequences were pretty slick and tense, confused affairs, which bodes well, I think.

Onto the less good. Well one of the key phrases above is “if you’ve seen/read a lot of SF” and I’m not sure that Falling Skies is bringing much new to the table on that front, which means it will hinge on execution rather than concept. Secondly, some of the dialogue is pretty heavy-handed, especially the family drama stuff, although I thought both the acting and direction managed to salvage a couple of the worst examples. It never grinds to a halt, but it certainly throws a couple of good attempts at stalling it’s engine.

Tonally though, I think it has the hardest job. This isn’t going to be Battlestar Galactica or The Walking Dead, where you tune in to be emotionally pummelled. For a show about alien occupation, it doesn’t want to be too dark; it wants to peer into that abyss a bit, with its images of dead children, broken families and shattered, abandoned cities, but at the same time it doesn’t want to go down there and have a real good poke around. Its final scene, which i think will curl some lips and raise some hackles, is a big part of this mixed desire – it’s a feelgood moment, it’s there to make you smile thing about community and pulling together in adversity. Balancing that “Warm Family Drama” feel and “Apocalyptic Alien Invasion” story is going to be tough for Falling Skies, and from the first episode I think that is its big task.

In conclusion, I liked it. I wasn’t wow-ed by, it’s not an opener that blows you away and hooks you right in. But it shows potential, and it could certainly go some interesting places, if it can keep it’s balance right.

Falling Skies airs on FX and FX HD on a tuesday night, 9pm

Rating:  4/5 (with the benefit of the doubt)
GS Reviewer: Matt

Matt is co-host of the Dissecting Worlds Podcast and regular contributor to the Geeksyndicate site for the “Tolkien Gestures” column. He also keeps a blog of long-winded ramblings at http://ramblingsoftheeasilydistracted.blogspot.com/. In what little spare time he has after all that he games, reads, paints tiny plastic figures and complains about his lack of spare time.

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus.

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3 comments

  1. pauseliveaction /

    Excellent review, and summed up very well what I felt about the first episode. A lot of it did seem a bit alien-occupation-by-numbers and reminded me of various things I’ve seen before and seen better, but there was also enough to make it interesting enough to stick with.

  2. I found it to be dull and to give a score rating based on a benefit of the doubt makes no sense.
    The female doctor was like cardboard and annoying or doing a January Jones impression as we say in these parts.
    At best, it was a good version of the revamped V, but this was just as predictable. Two black guys go out on a mission, yes you guessed it, one of them has to die. I see the two blonde girls at the end of the second episode, that won’t last.
    TV producers are too safe, white lead male, love interest, bad boy (Teabag type character) and token Asian.
    Time to say goodbye, this is not made for me but the mass public. Unoriginal and safe.

    • dwgrampus /

      Hi,

      It gets/got the benefit of the doubt for me as this is a first episode, and they are invariably choppy, exposition heavy affairs. None of the characters get to be anything but cardboard cut out because they’re trying to squeeze most of the cast into an hour or telly. I do expect more depth from them or the scores from me are going to dip.

      but – i do think it has an interesting premise and i do think it has a lot of potential to be pretty interesting. But yes, it is very “mass market” and safe – i guess i think there’s room for that sometimes 😉

      Matt

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