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FALLING SKIES (TNT)
(premieres Sunday, June 19 at 9:00/8:00c)
The network's description: "FALLING SKIES opens in the chaotic aftermath of an alien attack that has left most of the world completely incapacitated. In the six months since the initial invasion, the few remaining survivors have banded together outside major cities to begin the difficult task of fighting back. Each day is a test of survival as citizen soldiers work to protect the people in their care while also engaging in an insurgency campaign against the occupying alien force, whose nature and purpose remains a mystery.
FALLING SKIES stars Noah Wyle (ER), Moon Bloodgood (Terminator Salvation), Will Patton (Armageddon, TNT's Into the West) and Drew Roy (Secretariat). FALLING SKIES is executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, along with DreamWorks Television heads Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank, Graham Yost (Justified, The Pacific) and screenwriter Robert Rodat. Rodat, who earned an Oscar(R) nomination for his screenplay for Saving Private Ryan, wrote the pilot from an idea he co-conceived with Spielberg. Mark Verheiden (Heroes, Battlestar Galactica) and Greg Beeman (Heroes, Smallville) are co-executive producers."
What did they leave out? A lot, but that's kind of the point in these types of shows.
The plot in a nutshell: It's been six months since aliens effectively ended the world as we know it. 9 in 10 people are dead. EMPs have devastated the world's infrastructure. And most terrifying of all: no one seems to know why. All that is known is that they seem to be interested in our kids as those captured are "harnessed" with a device that turns them into mindless drones under their control. The few survivors then have banded together in makeshift militias - 100 fighters, 200 civilians each - designed to be large enough to protect itself but small enough to remain under the aliens' radar - all while the military and their scientists work on ways to fight their new overlords.
History professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is the second in command of one such group, the 2nd Massachusetts. His expertise in military tactics has made him an asset to the military, not to mention a reassuring presence to the citizens. After all, history is filled examples of inferior forces managing to drive out invaders - who's to say they can't too? The father of three boys - rebellious Hal (Drew Roy), precocious Matt (Maxim Knight) and middle child Ben (Connor Jessup) - Tom is haunted by his wife's death and Ben's ensuing capture during the invasion. He's however responsible for the lives of hundreds now, including his lone confidant, pediatrician-turned-trauma medic Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood). So in addition to figuring out how to rescue Ben, he's got to provide food and shelter to those he's been entrusted. That and simply survive.
What works: The show gets more and more addictive with each passing installment. After a fairly standard premiere, it's not long before the show manages to establish its own unique identity. Most impressive is how each episode of the series manages to actually answer questions - often ones you didn't even think to ask. It ultimately gives the show a unique, satisfying momentum that runs slightly askew to the usual post-apocalyptic narrative. This is very much a world you've seen before but its inhabitants are very different. It helps that Wyle provides a nice emotional bedrock for the show: he's broken, but functioning; terrified, but aware he's got to keep it together for the greater good.
The supporting cast - including Will Patton as the grizzled commander of the 2nd and Sarah Carter as a hardened fighter they stumble across - is also a nice mix of personalities as nobody's too much of a cipher or too little of a presence. The show also dips its toes into some unexpectedly dark waters, whether it be the necessarily evil of arming teenagers; humans who either collaborate with or profit from the aliens; or the disturbing notion that the more we learn about the aliens themselves the less we actually may know about their true intentions. It's a compelling mix, one that seven episodes in has me breathlessly awaiting the next hour.
What doesn't: As mentioned above I can certainly see someone tuning into the debut and potentially walking away unimpressed as it's pretty boilerplate alien invasion stuff. That being said, hang in there and you'll quickly find it's...
The bottom line: ...a fantastic series.