I’ve watched the first two episodes of Falling Skies, it’s not really a two-parter but that’s how they were shown in the US. Putting the two together is quite interesting as it nicely demonstrates that each episode is stand-alone, with a beginning middle and end, but there’s also a very strong thread running through to give an overall arc.
Reviewing science fiction shows these days poses an interesting dilemma – as a science fiction fan, with so little science fiction on the television, do I give what few shows there are an easy ride? I suspect I do. A science fiction show really doesn’t have to be very good to make me watch it, particularly as my housemates almost exclusively only watch science fiction and we are running desperately short of things to watch. It’s almost a given that I’ll watch at least the first few episodes of an sf show, whereas a procedural really has to impress on its pilot to make me watch more.
So with the bar set firmly at ankle height, it would take a particular level of incompetence to fail to get over it. The good news is that not only does Falling Skies not trip over, it actually manages a pretty good clearance. We’re not talking pole jumping medals admittedly, but it’s off to a solid and enjoyable start.
The concept gives the show a pretty good run up (to extend the metaphor even further) – 8 months after aliens invade and make a real mess of the planet, a bunch of survivors are going about what has become of their daily lives. It’s not about the big flashy early days of invasion, but about the daily trudge of finding shelter and food, and maybe as a sideline trying to come up with a plan to reclaim the planet, but mostly the food bit.
Neither is the show about a particularly remarkable group of survivors, they’re just a bunch of people thrown together. They’re over the shell-shock and grief stage, but that they haven’t forgotten that their lives used to be ‘normal. Their doctor is a paediatrician who finds herself doing emergency surgery on shrapnel and gunshot wounds and falling into a position as leader of the civilians. Their military leader is grizzly and several years out of service, his second is a military historian with minimal practical experience and a couple of kids to worry about. Thirteen year olds are soldiers, teenagers are scouts and everyone has to pitch in.
There’s an awful lot that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched anything in the alien invasion genre before. There’s the conflict between military and civilian; arguments about whether it’s better to fight a resistance or to keep your head down and focus on survival; and the standard collection of reprobates doing things that you’d rather hope the last survivors of mankind would have been above. But there’s also some careful avoidance of cliché, the academic is not only a pretty good tactician but a solid front line soldier, villains are not stupid and everyone is capable of reason, forgiveness and thoughtfulness.
The first episode was a little heavy on the action side of thing, feeling a little bit too much like a computer game at times, but the second episode had a bit more meat to it, making an interesting balance. Overall, I laughed, I cared about the characters, the action wasn’t exactly edge-of the-seat stuff, but it was fast and well done, and there were some interesting dilemmas to ponder and discuss. I’m quite looking forward to seeing what it does next.
Falling Skies starts Tuesday 5th July, 9pm on FX