The last few years have served up an abundance of vampire, zombie and supernatural centred television shows; from True Blood and The Walking Dead to Grimm and Teen Wolf, we’ve seen it all and in a hundred different ways. But what about the oldest theme in the book…the one that’s been rehashed too many times by Hollywood and has become even more hit-or-miss than a Tom Cruise movie… The alien invasion premise is a tough nut to crack but with Robert Rodat (writer of Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot) as its creator and Steven Spielberg as executive-producer, American sci-fi drama Falling Skies had a promising start and, thankfully, it’s a series that has only continued to get better.
Following a group of civilian and military survivors fleeing an alien-invaded, post-apocalyptic Boston, Falling Skies begins its first series six months after the global invasion devastation. The attack has wiped out most of the population, with power grids and technology ruined and most the world’s military forces destroyed. The main focus is on former history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), who falls into the role of second-in-command of a Militia regiment, under once-retired Army Captain Dan Weaver (Will Patton). Whilst trying to stay alive and keep ahead of the extraterrestrials, the resistance group are also searching for children, Tom’s son Ben being one of them, who have been captured by the enemy. Once rounded up, the children are fitted with biochemical devices known as harnesses, which control their minds and link them to the alien race. Worse still, the harnesses can’t be removed without killing the child – a plot twist that comes to a head at the end of season 1.
With the perfect balance between drama, action and emotional content, Falling Skies is a mix between the cinematography masterpiece that was J.J Abrams’ Super 8 (which Spielberg also produced) and the rather dubious but surprisingly entertaining US Marine vs Alien extravaganza, Battle Los Angeles. Exciting and realistic fight scenes, coupled with convincing lead performances (particularly Noah Wyle and Will Patton who steal the show), allow the series to stand tall amid the mediocre post-apocalyptic stories polluting pop-culture. The production is first rate but there’s a dark and gritty feel to the series that stops it looking ultra Hollywood glossy.
What makes Falling Skies work so well though is not the high-production value but the storyline and script. It’s centred on an alien invasion but the focus is on the resilience of humanity. The resistance group aren’t all trained in military combat but when forced to fight for those they love, they can be as fierce and resilient as any soldier – perhaps even more so when the cost is so high. Spielberg knows how to look at the familial element of a story – just look at ET – and this aspect of Falling Skies allows you to invest in the narrative and care about the characters.
If you’re a fan of the terrifically gripping The Walking Dead, you’ll love Falling Skies. With the finale of season 3 airing this week in the US, the series has just been renewed for a fourth season by TNT, showing its unsurprising popularity and universal appeal. As always, we’re a little behind here in the UK but you can buy seasons 1 and 2 on DVD now and catch up on all the alien invasion excitement you’ve been missing out on!