The latest show bearing the name of Steven Spielberg has his fingerprints all over it: enigmatic aliens, underdog tales, kids stepping up to the forefront, Falling Skies has it all. While this doesn’t quite coalesce into something akin to the achievements of his 2002 miniseries Taken, there’s nonetheless enough to suggest that there could be some mileage here.
Taking place in the immediate aftermath of an invasion courtesy of the alien ‘skitters’, we are pitched head-first into a full-blooded battle for survival, with the scattered survivors stitched together into makeshift regiments.
The initial narrative focuses primarily on one such group, the 2nd Massachusetts, with schoolteacher Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) taking on a leadership role alongside ex-military man Captain Weaver (Will Patton), while at the same time attempting to keep his sons Hal (Drew Roy), Ben (Connor Jessup) and Matt (Maxim Knight) safe, as well as working alongside the regiment’s doctor, Anne (Moon Bloodgood).
The decision to focus on a microcosm of the invasion is effective in laying bare the very human worries and anxieties of the survivors, but at the same time indicative of the relatively small scale of the production. The skitters clearly bore the brunt of the budget, looking suitably – and scarily – real, but this comes to the detriment of broadening the scope to encompass more of a world under the slimy extraterrestrial jackboot than just the area immediately surrounding the studio lot. Nowhere is this more clearly felt than in season finale ‘Eight Hours’, where the build-up to two concurrent make-or-break battles is resolved by one being abruptly curtailed and the other immediately cutting to the aftermath, with everyone wiped out save for the major characters.
Similarly, not all the characters feel fully developed yet: Wyle’s Tom is an amiable chap thrown into the apocalypse while trying to hold things together, but has little to distinguish him beyond being nice. Similarly, Drew Roy’s Hal seems unfazed by the destruction of everything he knew and loved, while Maxim Knight is very much in the Jake Lloyd mould. Conversely, Patton and Bloodgood both inject their characters with some persona, while Connor Jessup’s Ben could prove to be the show’s stand-out. Much has been made of morally ambiguous fan-favourite Pope (Colin Cunningham), and while he does provide something a bit different from the civilian and military types, he nonetheless feels a bit Sawyer-from-Lost-lite.
For all its shortcomings, Falling Skies has plenty going for it. At its best, it channels Battlestar Galactica in its story of humans battling a technologically and numerically superior foe. Admittedly, the multiple shades of moral grey that gave Ronald D Moore’s allegorical game-changer nuance aren’t immediately evident, although there are just enough twists and developments in the latter half to point towards something more than a budget Independence Day.
Even so, there are rough edges. The final episode ends on a suitably tense cliffhanger, albeit one – literally – appearing out of thin air at the last minute. With next season looking to change the state of play, however, the opportunity for Falling Skies to step up to the next level is there for the taking. In the meantime, this first season represents a fertile foundation from which something fruitful may some day sprout.