Tuesday, June 21, 2011

FALLING SKIES: You Were Warned

I wasn't going to write a blog post about Falling Skies (TNT, Sunday nights at 10pm EDT), but I'm reminded of that passage from Ezekiel in The Bible, and I feel I must.  The reason I wasn't going to write about this show is that I just feel like it isn't worth my time, at all.  The show wasn't exciting enough, or good enough, to warrant a post.  It also wasn't bad enough to rip it to shreds.  It just was, and that wasn't enough to write a post.  I'm not going to bore you with character/actor names, you can find that everywhere.  I will give you a brief rundown of why you should be careful, if you have plans to watch this show.  My prediction is it will not end well for you, and I want you to be able to save yourself from the inevitable.  If you still want to watch it, and even ENJOY the first episode, I have washed my hands, I warned you.

One of the most curious things about this show is the way it apparently was sent to critics.  I found two reviews of it through imdb.com, and both reviewers were supplied the entire first season.  If that's not enough of an indictment of this show, I don't know what is.  It appears TNT told these reviewers that, yeah, if you watch the first episode, you probably will just compare it to every been there done that show in the sci-fi/zombie genre, and rip it to shreds for your readers.  So, they decided it would be best to send the whole thing, in hopes that it wouldn't polarize the reviewers.  However, they weren't nice enough to do the same for the viewing audience, the vast majority of which probably contemplated poking out their eyeballs with a nerf football.

This show emulates a whole bunch of shows I haven't seen, and probably a bunch of shows I have seen.  Unlike most other shows of this genre, we are just plopped right into the story.  There is no explanation, and there is no reason to identify with the characters, or even who the hero is (it must be Noah Wyle, as he is the only "star" in the show).  The one thing this show got right was having Dale Dye be involved with it.  Yeah, I think that's the only thing it got right.

If you don't know anything about the show, here's the basic premise.  It has been six months since aliens invaded, and basically destroyed just about every human being.  What's left are rag tag groups of people, and our "heroes" have organized into what could be best described as a somewhat organized militia.  On the surface, the aliens seem absolutely unbeatable, but we all know that's not the case.  Like every other show in this genre, the series will evolve and devolve into a basic battle of good vs. evil.  It's just how these things go.  Sometimes we get the inevitable pair ups of bad guys joining good guys, and good guys joining bad guys, but the story remains the same.  There is a solitary goal, and it is to kill the aliens, and not be killed in the process.  Of course, there will be lots of manhood shaking along the way, but everyone will eventually get on board the same train.  Once we make the hero a knowledgeable underdog, with no practical experience, the stage is set for our adventures.

Maybe I would consider Falling Skies to be a better show if it had not been for the airing of the great show, in my opinion, The Walking Dead.  Truth be told, at the most basic level, this show is The Walking Dead, with aliens instead of zombies.  While Falling Skies may have a better overall ensemble cast, The Walking Dead is filled with excellent actors (I don't particularly like the two sheriff's deputy leads) that make you empathize and get on board with their stories.  I just don't see that, at all, in Falling Skies.  I just don't care about any of the characters, and certainly don't identify with, or particularly care for the hero.  You don't even despise the worst bad guy in the show.  It's just bland, and I can't see it getting much better.

When doing a show like this, tension has to be on the surface at all times, because people have been reduced to their most base survival instincts.  The Walking Dead was an extremely uncomfortable show to watch, not only for the zombie violence, but also because no one on the show really got along with each other (on the surface, maybe, but below that, not a chance).  They're all people who wouldn't have associated with each other, had it not been for the common cause of survival.  Because of that, we are always nervous that an interaction will not end well, which happened many times in The Walking Dead.  That is situational tension, and without it, you are not telling an accurate or realistic story.  Falling Skies gave us the inkling that the characters didn't like what they were being told to do, but it generally just manifested itself with mean looks as the person giving the order walked away.

Typically, in shows like these, we have a back story, then an attack, and then the aftermath.  In this one, it's almost like a "day in the life" type of movie or show.  We just see these people as being screwed, and trying to deal with things one day at a time.  We don't know why the aliens attacked, whether there was a ramp up to the attacks, or what the aliens' purpose is/was.  In other words, the show is basically what War of the Worlds would have been like six months after the fact, with no characters to identify with.  We just have to pick that stuff up on our own.  To say it plainly, you are required to invest a lot of effort to get into this show.  It doesn't make you want to watch it, you have to make yourself want to watch it.

Many of you reading this have been here before.  We were tricked into watching The Event.  We thought the first couple of episodes were pretty good, but then they dropped the bombshell.  These "people" were aliens.  The lucky ones tuned out.  Those of us who were unlucky enough to continue, got to see the show build into a spectacle we couldn't turn away from.  We didn't like the show, we had just invested too much time to stop watching.  I can't go through that again, so soon, and that is the main reason why I am not going to continue watching this show.

That's also why I'm encouraging you not to watch this show.  Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be something decent, but the simple reality is that it likely will not.  Generally, on shows like this, it is crucial to get out of the gate quickly.  The Walking Dead moved somewhat slowly out of the gate, but it was filled with tension that made up for the lack of speed.  The first episode of Falling Skies was painfully slow, and it doesn't look like there's any end in sight to the lack of excitement.  One interesting thing to note is that the show was broken into a Part 1 and a Part 2, in the credits.  That means the Pilot was not a 2 hour show, it was a 1 hour show.  When the TNT execs saw the first episode, they probably flipped out, saying something to the effect of "WTF is that????"  If the first episode ended with Part 1, instead of extending it into a 2 part episode, I find it hard to believe it would have had any viewers left.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you Falling Skies is S-L-O-W.  I love movies with a slow pace, and I don't mind TV shows with a somewhat slow pace, but this show was ridiculous.  There are long stretches, in the show, where NOTHING happens (think M. Night Shyamalan's, The Village).  We aren't even given character development in these slow patches, the characters are just given things to do.  The reason we aren't given character back story is because there are so many characters, and there just isn't time to talk about how everyone got to be where they are, and why they decided to be there.  This is a major problem.

When things go bad, human beings do interesting things.  In real life, if we had all of our water turned off for six weeks straight, it would likely devolve us into something we don't recognize.  We won't get along with anyone.  We would be mad.  We don't accept this kind of thing happening, in our age of technology, so there's just no way the vast majority of us would be able to deal with an apocalypse.  Things would be really ugly, and it would feel much more like how the characters acted on The Walking Dead, than the ones in Falling Skies.  It would have been nice to see one battle, or something, as opposed to a giant matte painting/Viz FX sequence, and the occasional cheaply done creature or alien robot special effect.  If you're not going to show the bad that happened, to get us here, it is your duty to tell us how all these people came to play nice with each other.  I just don't buy it.

To wrap up, I tried to use this post as a warning for you not to invest your time and energy in this show.  I'm not saying it won't end up being decent, but the precedent is set (with the weak first episode) for it to be bad.  Sending out the whole first season to critics tells me that the network is trying to make sure reviewers get the big picture, as opposed to the meandering snail, stuck in molasses, we, the viewers, were forced to see.  It should also be a giant red flag that this show is on TNT, as opposed to a network.  Spielberg got a couple of "epic" TV shows on the air next season, and if this one didn't get there, too, there's probably a reason why. 

I'll give my prediction of where the show is going, and if you continue to watch it (I won't), you can tell me if I'm right.  My guess is the series will be an allegory for terrorism.  It will turn out that the alien technologies, or aliens, were created by humans.  We basically helped them destroy us.  At one time, we trained the U.S.'s boogeyman to defeat the Russians.  That boogeyman ended up turning on the U.S., and ended up causing one of the country's most enduring tragedies.  The message of the show will be, be careful what you do, it may turn back on you.  That's my guess, and maybe, at the end of the first season, you can tell me if I'm right.  If I am right, it will turn out that you will have wasted 8 hours of your life.  My feeling about this show is that you are better off seeing the movie Anaconda.  It was one of the worst movies I've ever seen, but as opposed to Falling Skies, it was only 90 minutes.  You have been warned.  Thanks for reading.

P.S.  Here's a stupid piece of business the show had, that kind of sums it up for me.  The aliens have these crazy lasers that will kill you (painfully, I might add).  You would think the aliens would just aim those lasers wherever and do max damage, like a 12 year old with a machine gun.  But, no, these aliens have to carefully aim their beams, let it sit there for a second, and then fire.  This actually gives you time to get out of the way.  That's just dumb, to me.  Those lasers should be live all the time, and if you're touched, you're dead.

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