Aliens are the new zombies. A lingering fear of foreign terrorists and a growing mistrust of undocumented aliens have turned Americans into full-fledged xenophobes. Hence, the most timely metaphorical monster we can imagine right now is the flying-saucer-piloting, death-ray-shooting invader from outer space.
Dropping directly into this zeitgeist-exploiting camp is “Falling Skies,” the long-awaited sci-fi series from writer/creator Robert Rodat (The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan), executive producer Steven Spielberg (the name speaks for itself) and co-executive producer Mark Verheiden (“Battlestar Galactica”). The show takes such alien-oriented entertainment at District 9, Battle: Los Angeles, Skyline and ABC’s recent reboot of “V,” sticks them in a blender and lets it whirl. There isn’t, to be honest, anything remotely original about “Falling Skies.” But the end result is something closer to “comfortingly familiar” than “blatantly ripped-off.”
The premise is so simple, it’s summarized by a handful of children’s drawings at the beginning of the first episode. Ugly, multi-legged, insectoid, lizardy, squid-faced aliens have arrived on Earth, wiped out the military and taken over most of the population centers. A smattering of scrappy human survivors has banded together in an attempt to overthrow these pitiless invaders. That’s about it for background.
The cast is fairly large and—much like “Battlestar Galactica”—centers around a ragtag group of humans on the run. Stories mostly focus on Tom Mason (Noah Wyle of “ER”), a brainy college professor putting his knowledge of military history to use in the underground resistance. In addition to leading underequipped troops into battle and protecting bedraggled hordes of humanity, Tom’s trying to raise the remnants of a family. That currently consists of young son Matt and older son Hal. Mom was killed in the initial invasion, and middle son Ben has been kidnapped by the aliens—who use freaky spinal “harnesses” to enslave teenagers for menial labor.
Gung-ho writer/creator Robert Rodat isn’t exactly subtle in setting up this story as a metaphor for the American Revolution. The story takes place in the Boston area. American flags abound, national monuments are frequent backdrops and the resistance ends up camping out at an abandoned high school whose mascot is the Minutemen.
Most of the storylines are self-contained in each hour-long show, although there are some continuing story threads—such as Tom’s ongoing search for his enslaved son. The result is a series that keeps your interest building, without relying on the sort of “mythology”-heavy universe that frightened new viewers away from shows like “Lost.”
The effects are solid, if somewhat infrequent. The aliens (and their giant robot bodyguards) don’t play all that heavy a role, popping in whenever the story needs a good firefight to liven things up. Mostly—like AMC’s “The Walking Dead”—this is a tale of basic human survival. With its diverse cast, wide-open storyline and rally-round-the-flag-boys tone, “Falling Skies” could be an addictive summer series.