Review: Falling Skies: A Second Season Check In
by John Johnson
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with TNT’s Falling Skies almost since the show started. At first, there was so much to love: Steven Spielberg producing aliens, Dr. Carter shooting aliens, aliens being aliens. But in execution, the show often left much to be desired: the show was too brightly lit; the aliens weren’t much of a presence; the acting and scripting were very wooden. Throughout the first season, my interest waned but I kept slogging along. It was summer and there wasn’t much else to watch.
Then something started happening towards the end of the first season. Instead of sitting around a school talking to each other, the characters started taking action, and more importantly taking the fight to the alien invaders. They were doing something, and the show was finally becoming the American Revolution Redux it promised to be in its spectacular pilot.
Once the second season started this past June, I eagerly tuned in and was pleased to see the quality had kept up over the break. Since then, the show has grown stronger each episode, making us vested in the characters and their battles both with the aliens and with themselves. There have been any number of qualitative changes in this superior second season, from the way the show is shot to the way the cast is being handled to the scripts themselves.
The show is now set at night in winter, and while this seems logical (most of the first season appeared to be taking place during the late summer/fall months), it’s a fortuitous boon for the production. The waning gray light of winter is better suited for a post-apocalyptic war series than the sun-dappled shots of brightly colored leaves of the first season. If hell has been unleashed on Earth, then we don’t want the scenery to encourage us to pick apples. TV’s other great survival series, The Walking Dead, achieves the same effect by plunging the group into the heat of summer. While they also seem to have increased the special effects budget–I think there are 6 different kinds of aliens now, and each are fairly well rendered–the fewer daytime scenes the better. It’s a lot easier to buy the CGI aliens when things are a tad darker.
The cast is being better managed now. While the action still centers around Tom Mason, aptly played by Noah Wylie, and his three sons, the producers have smartly allowed the three sons to have their own stories. Tom is still a part of their stories but all four of them are branching out and interacting with the other characters, making us care more about the rest of the 2nd Mass. Tom’s found romance with Dr. Glass (Moon Bloodgood). Bloodgood is developing into quite a good actress of late. She’s always handled the science and medical work well, but she is finally becoming warm and open as their nascent relationship develops.
I’m also a big fan of Hal (Drew Roy) and Maggie’s (Sarah Carter) burgeoning relationship. We’ve always had to squint to believe that Tom would have a son as old as Hal, and pairing him with an older woman pushes that credulity to the limit, but the pair have a pleasant chemistry. Roy is one of the strongest members of the ensemble and needs to be given more to do.
A year ago if you told me the thing I would like best about the show is Ben, I would have laughed. But the writers recognized that the emotional buy in of the first season was the kidnapped teenagers. By tweaking Ben’s story (and by the growth of Connor Jessup as an actor), they have found some compelling drama which goes beyond an are-they-a-cylon sort of trust question into a teenager’s self-examination and self-recrimination of rebellious and conflicting beliefs. It’s not the smoothest bit of writing on the show yet, but it gets better every week. If they continue to polish this up, and maybe give us one other good allegory, then the show would be in really great shape.
They really have been polishing up the writing. It seems that series has become the wayward home for lost Battlestar Galactica writers, and this is a good thing. They are getting the basic plotting right for the show. The first season started to right itself when the characters took action. In this second season, they have continued that. Even more importantly the writers have given the characters a narrative drive: they must get to Charleston. This tiny bit is so vital to the series. Characters need to want something. They have to have goals that they are working towards. There can be drama, disappointments, set backs, victories or rewards along the way, but the characters must have focus.
The series isn’t without problems. The dialogue still tends towards the melodramatic; an actual quote from this past (and perhaps series best since the pilot) episode, ”Come on now, Boone. You don’t move, you’re dead. Move you son of a bitch! “. The minor characters are underdeveloped to say the least; I think the Asian male is named Dai. The acting, especially from the minor players, is oftentimes wooden at best; the tragedy of this series’ Red Shirts is that they seem so eager to volunteer to be killed. And then there’s Pope. Colin Cunningham, whom I’m sure I’ve liked at one point in his career, is giving over-the-top, hammy acting a bad name. He certainly isn’t being helped by the writers which give Pope perhaps the worst lines this side of a CSI: Miami act out stinger. I was very pleased when he got benched for a while this season, unfortunately it was too short a time.
In spite of its flaws, Falling Skies is a pleasant enough diversion in these summer months. Falling Skies airs on Sunday nights on TNT; TNT will marathon all of the Season 2 episodes so far this Sunday.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars