ADVANCE REVIEW: Falling Skies Two-Hour Premiere

A column article, Shot For Shot by: The TV Squad
Created by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) and Steven Spielberg (I won't insult your intelligence by listing the myriad films he's given us), Falling Skies is a new TNT sci-fi drama starring Noah Wyle, Will Patton and Moon Bloodgood as they lead a resistance force of Earthlings against an alien invasion. Falling Skies will have a two-hour premiere on Sunday, June 19, 2011. Comics Bulletin received screeners of the first three episodes, so expect a review of the third episode, "Prisoner of War," next week.

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Rafael Gaitan: Webster's defines Noah Wyle as "a wily individual with a dynamic personality (not unlike TNT) and descended from the holiest of arks."

Danny Djeljosevic: So, Falling Skies is pretty much The Walking Dead with Spielberg's War of the Worlds thrown in for good measure, right? 'Cause that's the vibe I got.

Rafael: Yeah, that's about right. Camps, talk of surviving, post-apocalypse -- it's essentially the Walking Dead if the zombies were better armed.

Danny: Yeah, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but there's nothing wrong with that. There's always room for alien fightin' in our sci-fi TV.

Rafael: Oh, agreed. Fight them aliens, boy. There's a Revolutionary War metaphor keeps coming up though, and it really does feel forced to me. Like, we get it -- you don't have to keep talking about it or pointing out the sites where it happened. Give your audience a little credit. Don't just don't keep reminding me how just a fight it is. Let me decide!

Danny: The Revolutionary War thing wasn't too apparent to me, probably because the whole thrust of the show is steeped in genre stuff before having any historical context. The conversation with the redneck leader guy in the second episode puts it in a cool perspective, though -- maybe they're not the revolutionaries, but the Indians being colonized by the technologically advanced Europeans.

Rafael: I will say though, I do enjoy seeing it happen outdoors and in a contemporary setting. Like, look at B.S. like Battle: Los Angeles, and how it's all "MILITARY VS. ALIENS! WE GOT THIS SHIT!"

Danny: Having the show take place in normal contemporary locations surely keeps costs down, too.

Rafael I like seeing a ragtag group become soldiers become friends and care for one another. It speaks to a writer actually trying. Combat friendship is easy to write; genuine friendship takes time.

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Danny: That first episode establishes what the show is about, but doesn't give us a lot to chew on.

Rafael: I appreciated at first, that Episode 1 is all killer. It dumps us right in. If you wanna see benevolence turn to contempt, watch V.

Danny: I just think that the first episode of Falling Skies plays like a plot outline put to film. All the pieces are placed on the board, but it would have been nice to see them begin to move a little.

Rafael: I liked that it opens with kids retelling the story -- budgetary reasons aside, it's a unique narrative device. We'll glean what the adults feel because they're our central characters. No one ever thinks of how kids react to these things -- they just get shown as burdens to be protected. So how much was I enthused about a battle-hardened 13-year-old rifling up big time?

Danny: Yeah, the opening scene was really clever, but as a premiere episode, it fails. It feels like it was written with the hope that viewers would just stick around for the second, which is amazingly superior to the first.

Rafael: I gotta agree, Danny. The more I think about it, the more I wish there was more of the second ep's style mixed in the first kinda feels like an idea spread: "They're aliens, we're alive, most people are dead, we have guns." What else happens? There's a neat shoot out in a warehouse, but with minimal set-up and minimal pay-off. That's probably why they grouped them together. Were it intended to be a two hour pilot, it would've at least had the same credited writers/directors.

Danny: None of the characters we really meet get offed, there isn't a whole lot of zazz to the writing or dialogue... it feels weirdly perfunctory. I don't feel any sense of danger until Episode 2.

Rafael: Yeah I think that might have to do with Robert Rodat as a writer -- he's more interested in seeing how these people fight than why. When you push the pedigree of Dreamworks Television and Executive Producer Steven Spielberg, that does set forth an expectation of quality.

Danny: Yeah, those are big deal names behind this, but the first episode feels like it's coasting behind those marquee credits. And let's not forget the best genre television premieres of recent years: stuff like Lost, Walking Dead, Battlestar Galactica (miniseries or first episode, your choice), Game of Thrones. You gotta go hard in that first episode. Thankfully, it seems like subsequent episodes will back up that pedigree.

Rafael: If the second episode is any indicator, they got all the backstory out of the way, and now we can meet these characters. After this second episode, I remarked "man, that made me want to keep watching!"

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Danny: You and I watched this at the same time, and for a lot of the first episode we broke up the monotony with jokes about which ethnic character was going to die first and how long Will Patton's character was for this series. During Episode 2, we totally clammed up. It was actually compelling.

Rafael: Oh man, I thought he was donezo as soon as Dale Dye named a second-in-command for him. "Well, bye! Thanks for being in our pilot, Will Patton!"

Danny: Once you have young Noah Running Wyle set up next to Denzel's assistant coach from Remember the Titans, you know who's going to live.

Rafael: He's listed as an "and Will Patton" at the beginning of the show, which always means "Here for the marquee, gone by the credits." But Patton's character totally came into his own in the second episode -- he feels less like an archetype of a salty old soldier and is better represented as a genuinely concerned individual.

Danny: Which is more the stereotypical Will Patton role.

Rafael: His conversation with Moon Bloodgood tips that -- he does care about the civilians, but he understands that they're the first and only line of defense Hence when he surrenders to the Sons of Anarchy Extra, he says "I'll get you."

Danny: Surprisingly, he survives the pilot, which is nice. I'd prefer Will Patton be around than not be around, y'know? There is no film that benefitted from forcible removal of Will Patton. See: 2003's The Punisher.

Rafael: While I relish danger in my TV shows, it's nice to see the unexpected occur. Patton surviving more than one episode means "Hey, we should use this great actor as more than just a stepping stone to Noah Wyldin' Out's redemption or whatevs."

Danny: Ultimately, for me the first episode of Falling Skies goes for big but doesn't try to earn it. See: the final shot of the episode, where grandiose music plays while downtrodden survivors just... walk.

Rafael: It's clear it wanted to jump into the action, which is respectable, but at some point we have to want to see them survive. It's not good enough that they're our cast of characters, and that's what Episode 1 does -- it tells us "This is who you should root for." "Why?" "Because we cast them."




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Danny: Good thing Episode 2 exists. Which blew me away.

Rafael: Yeah man -- it's a staggering increase in quality.

Danny: I blame writer Graham Yost.

Rafael: Most assuredly. Yost is a fantastic writer and he's proven his grit in TV writing. He's clearly found his voice in TV over the last few years -- Boomtown was an excellent foray into cop drama, and Justified is the best thing to happen to TV since they invented cathode rays. Yost basically has a gift for writing interrelationships between people. An episode of Justified basically highlights all of Harlan County instead of just Raylan Givens, the FBI or the Marshall's Office.

Danny: I really gotta get around to watching Justified one of these days.

Rafael: I love that fake-out flashback in the beginning of Episode 2, where you see the kid's room and everything looks normal, and then BOOM! Wile. E Noah opens the door, and we're in the present. Such a great mindfuck to kick off the episode.

Danny: That was cute.

Rafael: I really dug it a lot -- it showed that this show understands what other shows would do, and then didn't do it. All praise due to Graham Yost. He's a great writer. And on this show it seems like he's gotten a good feel for how these people are all in it together. This episode shows us that these people are all coming up against each other and now they have to deal with it.

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Danny: As the episode was starting up, I was thinking "Wow, we're finally getting to know these guys." And then we meet the gang of rednecks, led by the most interesting man on TNT.

Rafael: I mean, I didn't think the first episode was horrendous -- it had enough to keep me going -- but the second one was 1) engaging, 2) well-written 3) had personality! That rogue outlaw leader was one charming dude. That actor clearly was having fun with the role.

Danny: He's just so full of personality. He's so compelling! He's like a real character!

Rafael: Man, yes! He was so charming. Like, for how deplorable the setting was, and how merciless and despicable he was, he was the most engaging part.

Danny: Yeah, it's clear Graham Yost was enamored with that character.

Rafael: He could easily be an antagonist for Marshall Raylan Givens, but he works just as well as an antagonist in this show. Basically, he's great because he's in the same camp as Noah Into the Wilde -- he's leading a group of people he doesn't want to be around, except he's much more self-centered. But he has perfectly logical explanations for his opinions, and he's just a dude trying to survive!

Danny: I seriously hope he stays around. If not, I'm declaring Falling Skies a failure.

Rafael: Most assuredly. He feels like a genuine person that reacts genuinely to his situation. Rather than be afraid, he embraces his inner darkness, like how he talks about single-handedly killing one of those "cooties." Yeah he's the best character so far -- he's so watchable!

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Danny: Which brings me to an important point! What do you think of the aliens?

Rafael: I think they look awesome, a bit like the Xenomorphs from Aliens with some sweet spider legs. They're actually scary and intimidating, and practical to boot!

Danny: The spider legs are a nice touch. And some of the effects are practical!

Rafael: Yessir. While they do have to rely on CG for the ships and such, it was a great touch to see actual monsters that people can interact with. It adds to the sense of realism altogether.

Danny: The sad state of moving pictures: a work gains a ton of credibility for me if it has practical effects.

Rafael: Haha, I agree, but it's nice to see that that level of effort still exists. It helps mitigate it for me.




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