|'Falling Skies' is the higher-profile project, and it frankly falls further after its enjoyable two-hour pilot. The first half of the premiere was written by the show's creator, Robert Rodat ('Saving Private Ryan'), and the second half was penned by 'Justified' executive producer Graham Yost, a veteran of both 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific.' Given these writers' experience with war stories, the post-apocalyptic 'Falling Skies' pilot unfolds with the economical, matter-of-fact momentum of a good combat film.|
We see ragtag teams going on missions in which the odds are stacked against them; we meet alien foes who seems resourceful and intimidating; and we see a 13-year old kid casually shouldering a rifle, which tells us everything we need to know about how the war effort is going. There are solid performances from Noah Wyle as Tom Mason, a history professor-turned-military leader and Moon Bloodgood as Anne Glass, a doctor treating survivors, and Colin Cunningham is especially entertaining as John Pope, a wily resistance leader.
Cunningham alone is reason enough to keep watching this series, but in almost every other respect, 'Falling Skies' sags after its taut two-hour pilot. I lost count of the times I paused episodes to try to understand an inexplicable moment or to complain to my couchmate about a predictable development. There are some promising ideas and story lines here, but the pilot far outshone subsequent episodes in terms of quality and efficiency.
It's not as if every decision the characters make is silly, but too many inexplicable decisions are made by various survivors, and it's not hard to predict exactly how and why those decisions will go wrong. When characters do things because the plot requires them to rather than because those actions make sense to them and to us, eye-rolling frustration is inevitable.
Tonally, 'Falling Skies' is all over the place. I can understand why the resolutely mainstream TNT wouldn't want a sci-fi series that was as dark as 'Battlestar Galactica' could be, but the drama's "uplifting" scenes feel tacked-on and ultimately unnecessary. This is just my imagination at work, but as I watched, I kept picturing TNT executives telling the writers, "But there have to be some heartwarming moments! End the episodes on an uplifting note!"
Whether or not the executives are to blame, we get several clunky scenes like the ones in which a female medical student offers nuggets of astonishingly grating greeting-card wisdom (her name is Lourdes, but she may as well be called Mary Sue). Steven Spielberg, who is one of the drama's executive producers, is known for his tendency toward sentiment, but his movies are usually not guilty of the kind of sloppy schmaltz on display here.
It's not as if the show has to be cynical or pessimistic all the time, but its moments of "hope" tend to be transparently manipulative attempts to pull on our heartstrings. But the way to get viewers invested in the characters is to make them complex and interesting and to put them in stories that are exciting and unpredictable, as 'Lost' and 'Battlestar Galactica' did. Given that 'Falling Skies' doesn't seem comfortable exploring political analogies or delving deeply into moral quandaries, why not do what 'The Walking Dead' did and tell sturdy, familiar genre tales very well?