Falling Skies episode 1 review: Live And Learn: series premiere

Falling Skies premieres with a strong cast of ensemble actors, but is its mix of family drama, action, and sci-fi elements balanced for a long haul? Here's Ron's review...

1. Live And Learn

One of the things I loved most about the original Terminator film was the brief glimpses the audience got of life after the robot uprising. Once the Terminators started roaming the wastes and hunting humans, and humans organized a resistance, things got interesting. One of the problems with V was their unwillingness to get into the actual resistance part, instead turning the Fifth Column into more of a terrorist group than organized fighters. Since V is gone and Terminator Salvation both ruined the post-apocalyptic setting of Terminator, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles ruined the franchise’s TV hopes by not finding an audience and being on Fox, that leaves us with Falling Skies.

No, Falling Skies is not Terminator, but it is aliens and they do have mech-type body armor attack suits, and that’s good enough for me. What V failed to deliver on, Falling Skies has in spades. We’re talking explosions, action, suspense, and did I mention awesomely creepy spider aliens? Because, yeah, it has those too.

As the show explains via creepy child voiceover, aliens randomly show up on Earth. Rather than pussyfoot around, they get straight to the killing. They burn out all the electronics, destroy most of the military, and drop nukes on all the major cities. Those that don’t die are captured. Adults are killed, and children and teens are hooked into harnesses, which are like alien spine things that allow them to be controlled like slaves. Meanwhile, the last remnants of humanity are banding together to fight for survival, or to fight one another for the remaining scraps of food and weapons left undestroyed by the alien invasion fleet.

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When it comes to ass-kicking nerds, you really can’t do much better than Noah Wyle. Those The Librarian movies he did on TNT seem to have led directly into this role as Tom Mason, a former American history professor who uses his knowledge of historical war trends to fight in an organized resistance, the 2nd Massachusetts, against an invading force of insectoid aliens known only as skitters. Granted, Mason wasn’t a warrior in his old life, like 2nd Mass’ commanding officer, Porter (Dale Dye), but he knows his men, and more importantly, he knows his tactics.

Still, Professor Kick Ass, as he is dubbed by some of his men, seems to have his brains intact, despite the invading aliens, and Wyle plays his role as the centerpiece of the show very well. He’s equal parts brainy and brawny, able to both handle a tense face-off and the brooding of a father missing his wife and children well.

Dye himself is great as the gruff military man (which, given his long and very decorated career in the US military, seems reasonable), and Moon Bloodgood rounds out the main cast of known actors as Dr. Anne Glass. Mason’s oldest son, Ben (Connor Jessup), and youngest son, Matt (Maxim Knight), also seem to be shaping up to be major characters, making the show a real ensemble affair.

I love a good ensemble show, and it seems like Falling Skies is going to become one of those. Wyle has proven he can carry himslef in a cast of many, thanks to his long run on ER. Granted, this show is nothing like ER (aside from the large, diverse cast), since I don’t remember Dr. Carter blowing up things with C4 or fighting armed gangs of sleaze balls, but he’s a known property.

Beyond its collection of good ensemble actors, Falling Skies isthe kind of action-oriented sci-fi program that seems to thrive on cable, long after a broadcast network would have given up on footing the budget for the program. The pilot plays like an open-ended movie, but it’s very well constructed and I think Robert Rodat has proven that he’s the kind of guy who knows how to write a good military flick, while not neglecting family drama.

It goes without saying I have high hopes for Falling Skies, given its pedigree and subject matter. It’s a show I really want to succeed, and it’s a show I want to be good. Fortunately, if the first episode is any indication, it’s going to be a good show whether I want it to or not. The difficult part will be balancing the demands of an action-hungry audience with a cable TV budget, with the urge to tell a great story in between all the special effects and explosions.

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So far, so good.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is only watching Falling Skies because it’s not on Fox and won’t get canned in the middle of the first season. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.