It’s tough to make a successful sci-fi TV show. Many arrive each year but most quickly fall by the wayside, some getting cancelled because the ratings don’t justify the expense and others ending quickly because they’re simply not very good. Falling Skies however was a ratings hit on its US debut last year, and for the most part tells a compelling story.
In the aftermath of an alien invasion, the major cities have been destroyed, modern civilisation has fallen and only ragtag groups of survivors are around to resist the brutal extra-terrestrials. While he’s spent most of his life as a history professor, in this new world Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) has become second in command of the 2nd Massachusetts, a military unit fighting the ‘skitters’ and also sheltering a group of civilians.
While Tom has to deal with the practicalities of post-apocalyptic life – from warding off the aliens to ensuring they have enough food and munitions – he’s also becomes aware that his missing son, Ben, is still alive, but under the skitters control. The aliens have taken lots of young people and attached organic harnesses to them, so that the teens unthinkingly do their bidding. Tom is desperate to save his son, although the technology to remove the harnesses is risky. It also becomes clear that while the humans think they know what the alien threat looks like, they could be wrong.
Falling Skies presents a complex world where there’s a hell of a lot going on. Indeed sometimes there’s a bit too much going on, as a few threads go missing around the middle of the season, and are only partially picked up later on. However it’s an involving series, with all sorts of interesting sci-fi ideas – from the factions, camaraderie and problems of living after the fall of civilisation, to the evolving nature of the alien threat. This is particularly fun, with the series constantly revealing more about what’s going on extra-terrestrials. What initially seems to be an utterly inhuman invasion – intent on killing all humans simply because they can – becomes something more interesting as the 10 episodes unfold.
As mentioned, things do lose focus about halfway through. There’s a slight impression that the makers knew exactly where they wanted to start off and where they wanted to get to by the end of Season 1, but weren’t 100% certain how to get there. As a result some story threads are lost and there’s some slightly tedious in-fighting to deal with, but it quickly gets back on track. There’s also plenty of action, with lots of human on alien battles, which admittedly tends to be people versus one or two of the skitters (probably a good thing as they’ve very tough to kill), but are exciting nonetheless. Falling Skies is also unafraid of some pretty disturbing moments, showing that both humans and aliens are capable of some very dark things.
The three disc set also includes some decent commentaries on selected episodes, as well as featurettes looking at the CG animation used for the six-legged skitters and views behind-the-scenes on the show. While Season 2 is just starting to air on FX, there’s also a sneak peak at the second batch of 10 episodes, and footage of the show’s Comic-Con panel last August.
Overall Verdict: A great sci-fi show, offering plenty of action and a complex post-apocalyptic universe, with an ever-evolving alien threat.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac