Falling Skies – Pilot Episode “Live and Learn” – Review

If you’re going to write any kind of post-apocalyptic drama, you’ve got three main choices: Killer Zombies, Killer Robots or Killer Aliens. Falling Skies, given its association with Steven Spielberg, settles for aliens as its antagonist of choice. If James Cameron had attached his name to the project, it would undoubtedly have been called The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Expectations for Falling Skies were low to begin with. We’ve done alien invasion to death. I’m seeing overtones of Tom Cruise’s take on War Of The Worlds, but much less of the awful alien soap opera that V became. There are also parallels with M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening – a migrant human population looking for safe haven from whatever’s killing them. Wind/aliens/whatever.

However, we’re plunged straight away into the horrific aftermath of alien invasion. Hilariously, to avoid the expensive CGI that showing us the extermination of the human race would have entailed, we’re given the backstory by way of children’s drawings of the event. Cheap and cheerful!

Still, the premise is pretty solid even if it does cover old ground: the aliens (referred to as Skitters) have wiped out most of the human race, and small bands of resistance fighters are springing up to fight them. The Skitters are enslaving human children using organic-looking harnesses which attach to their necks and seem to drain their free will. It seems that they’re essentially scavenging for metals while leisurely exterminating the rest of the human race.

The pilot episode of Falling Skies establishes much of the backstory and introduces us to the Mason family – Dad, two sons and one other son who’s currently in the clutches of the aliens. I thought the addition of Moon Bloodgood would spell romantic entanglement between her character and Noah Wylie’s, but so far they’ve avoided that particular cliche. The Masons are part of the resistance, though it’s established early on that the military and civilian wings of the resistance aren’t wonderful bedfellows. The gun-toting types aren’t entirely pleased at having vulnerable civvies in tow, and they have a two-tier system in place where ‘soldiers’ get to sleep in houses while civvies sleep in tents. It’s actually a wonderfully complex notion, and points at some solid thinking on the part of the show’s creators.

Something else that I enjoyed was Noah Wylie talking to his screen son and realising that six months ago he was setting curfews, while now he check his kid has enough ammo before leaving for the night. That really brings home the reality of living in this alternative universe – it’s a dangerous place with potential injury/death/enslavement on every outing.

Strangely enough, Wylie kicks ass as the history professor turned revolutionary. And does anyone else think he vaguely resembles a haggard, post-apocalyptic Keanu Reeves? The supporting cast were all solid, though I’ve yet to warm to Bloodgood’s character. I’m enjoying Will Patton as General Weaver – a hard ass military character who’s also a bit of an asshole. Unless proven otherwise, I’m going to love hating him.

Elsewhere, we’ve got a religious girl with a crush on Tom Mason’s son Hal. It’s important to see the religious angle when aliens come knocking, because of how that might affect faith. We’ve also got the leader of a gang of alien hunters, a mean unhinged fella by the name of Pope. There’s also an interesting question posed by another character – when the Skitters have six legs, why do their mechanical sentinels have only two? I’m guessing there’s an important answer to that question in the future.

Note: I know this review is a few weeks late. Blame the holiday period! However, I’m planning to keep up with a few of the newer shows this year, so expect catch-up reviews in the near future!

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2 Comments

  1. Polyester

    I quite liked the two-episodes that consisted the premiere, but that may have to do more with me coming from the utterly disappointing V, rather than merits of its own. Still, Skies manages to hold its own and deliver a descent alien invasion series, without much of the utter cliches. Also nice was the inclusion of so far (I was up to ep3 but I fully intend to catch up on them one of these days) of normal, under the curcumstances, teens.

    I was a bit doubtful of Dr Carter as a historian-turned-military, but Wyle does pull it off convincingly, and is rather likeable in the role as well. Moon Bloodgood (the actress’ name sounds all kinds of awesome btw) is a bit meh, but there is potential to develop in future episodes, none of which, I hope, delves too deep in a romantic subplot with Wyle’s characters. The rest of the characters are also pretty descent, a bit bland, but that works well overall within the normal people surviving the devastion of that is the setting. 

    Given the (guessing here) not that huge budget this series has, the visual are very, very good and manage to bring a sence of athmosphere to the episodes I’ve seen so far. Whoever was working on those managed to pull an awesome job, there are series that have probably a higher budget but don’t look half as good as Skies. 

    What I didn’t dig in the premiere was that it could have used some more time to explaining how the invasion happened. I did like the cutesy children drawing of it, was a nice touch, but it’s something that definately needed more screen time, and I hope they include something – like a couple of flashbacks at some point, maybe – on the matter. 

     

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I remember Moon Bloodgood in Journeyman, and she had a much more intriguing role as a time traveller. She was seductive, mysterious and sexy. Unfortunately, Falling Skies so far has her cast in the mummy-ish role of paediatrician. Hopefully her part will develop into something more interesting.

      And I totally agree on the special effects – they’ve spent the money in exactly the right places. Those hunter-killer robots are perfect, and terrifyingly efficient killing machines. I watched a bit of District 9 the other night, and Falling Skies has mimicked the quality of alien. Everything else basically just needs to be barren and broken up. Reminds me a little bit of the original Terminator movie, which showed that lo-fi effects could work just as well to create a terrifying environment.

      I’m up to the fourth episode now – still enjoying it. I’ll do another piece when I’m properly caught up.

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