The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Stop Making Excuses for Falling Skies

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

TNT is currently ariring the second season of Falling Skies and has already picked up the show for Season 3, yet CC2K TV Editor Phoebe Raven still maintains that it is a lazy show, for all the reasons she already explained last year when talking about Season 1.

It premiered to record-breaking numbers and received a renewal for a second season, but after six aired episodes I am coming out of the woodworks and saying it out loud: Falling Skies is bad television and anyone who claims otherwise is settling for mediocre at best, when we all know that in life you should never, ever settle for anything.

It’s tempting to go easy on Falling Skies, because it is a summer show, and it airs on TNT, and it’s about an alien invasion and it stars Moon Bloodgood and it’s executive produced by Steven Spielberg; all factors that mitigate your opinion and tend to lower the standard you hold Falling Skies to. Basically, you want it to be good. But if we fall prey to these easy excuses and rush to defend what is a lackluster show even in its “best” moments, then we are the ones to blame for all the other shows we will be bombarded with that will follow suit and operate on a similar level of quality. If we want our television programming to become higher quality in general, we need to start demanding better shows by reprimanding the bad ones more harshly.

In the past few weeks I have revealed that I have my general quarrels with Summer TV and most of these stem from my reluctance to operate under the general assumption that during the summer we are supposed to lower our expectations when it comes to television. I refuse to do so, because after all summer is also the season that gives us shows like Mad Men (this year being an exception), Breaking Bad (the Season 4 premiere Sunday was all kinds of mind-blowing) and Luther (alright, that’s British, but I don’t care). What I expect of television stays the same year-round and I doubt many viewers would be as patient and accepting of Falling Skies if it aired during the regular Fall Season.

Falling Skies is Spielbergian in more ways than I care to recount and to me this boils down to exactly one problem: it’s a thing of the past. Spielberg stopped being hip sometime in the 90s and since then the way stories are told in television and movies alike have progressed and make what Spielberg did instantly appear dated to all of us. The morals, the pacing, the storytelling technique, the plot structure of Falling Skies – it all rings oddly familiar (because we have seen it in countless films in the 90s) and has no potential to surprise us, neither with plot twists nor with unique, shaded messages.

Falling Skies isn’t terrible because it is terrible. It is terrible because it is ordinary and there is no excuse for that at this point in time anymore. Not when the history of “alien invasion” franchises is as long and diversified as it is and competition in the world of TV is as fierce as it is right now. Falling Skies is trite. It has nothing, absolutely nothing new to say about human nature, family, friends, society or war. It merely re-trods paths other movies and shows have traveled before, and traveled with more style and more insight.

The four weeks Falling Skies supposedly spent “world-building” were a dreadful bore, dragging along, not really “building” much of anything, because the show’s perspective is so narrow, it is impossible to draw conclusions about the “world” the show is supposed to be set in. The most interesting part of the story – how the aliens came and what their first attack looked like – was skipped over in a thirty-second voice-over at the very beginning of an overly long 2-hour series premiere event. With this opening, Falling Skies force-fed us the old logic that used to go into every alien invasion movie made before Contact: that aliens will come, ask no questions and simply go about destroying the Earth for no good or apparent reason whatsoever, because aliens are always evil like that. And while I understand that something you can’t rationally explain is always more scary than something explicable, it makes absolutely no sense for a life form that is so advanced it can travel through entire galaxies in search for other forms of life to then go ahead and eradicate that other form of life it has flown light years through space to find. Even we humans are sending robots to Mars to take samples and study any kind of life we might find there. Are we going to bomb Mars into oblivion if we find intelligent life there (which we won’t, but that’s not my point)?

And why do aliens have to be so humanoid anyway? I think aliens should be so “alien” that we can’t even tell how they function. What’s with the lack of imagination of giving the aliens heads and eyes and mouths and arms and maternal instincts? Falling Skies is falling victim to the anthropic principle all over the place.

But for all the humanoid features the aliens possess, the actual humans in Falling Skies are actually barely human at all, because they lack any emotional depth or nuance. Spielberg himself back in the day rarely dealt in subtlety and shading, but we’ve come a long way since then and I am tired of forgiving TV shows for shortcomings they should be able to avoid by now, simply by learning from past mistakes. Is this an unfair charge to bring against Falling Skies exclusively? Sure. There are many other shows out there equally at fault, but Falling Skies pretends to be big in scope and trajectory and yet fails to set up its own proper groundwork, which makes it all the more infuriating. At least some of the other shows (like Suits, Necessary Roughness, Hawthorne, The Glades or Royal Pains) don’t pretend to be about anything global and life-changing for all of humanity while forgetting to show us what “being human” actually means. Come to think of it, Hawthorne has been doing a pretty good job in its third season so far with small, subtle, quiet moments of humanity that elicit actual emotion in the viewer.

Falling Skies
relies on a lot of defaults in the human mind, like the default position that children are our future, extremely valuable and need to be protected by all means, hence parents are willing to do stupid things in order to save the kids. It’s fine for the parents to lose their common sense when the fate of the children hangs in the balance, but the non-parents and the military leaders should keep their heads and reign people in when that happens. At the rate the group of humans in Falling Skies is going, I am wondering each and every week how in the hell they haven’t all been shot by the aliens already.

Nothing in Falling Skies feels immediate, not even the sense of danger and given that this is a show about the supposed “end of the world as we know it”, that’s a pretty bad thing to say. The problem is that most of the tragic and existential casualties happened off-screen, before we as the viewers ever entered the show’s universe, so the sense of loss the characters are feeling means nothing to us and relies too much on the socially agreed upon norm that losing a loved one is horrible. Falling Skies does a lot of talking and not enough showing. Instead of talking about all the children that were lost, how about you give us some flashbacks of the early days of the alien invasion and let us actually see some of the disaster, panic and deaths?

Irrationality and flip-flopping rule in the world of Falling Skies. The humans make one horrible (and illogical) decision after the other and generally suck at even the most basic survival techniques. Have they never seen the countless alien invasion and zombie apocalypse movies and learned their lesson? (Incidentally, this was also a complaint I had with The Walking Dead, in which everyone seemed ignorant of the mere concept of “zombies”, placing the characters in a distinctly different world than our own, even though it sure looked exactly like ours.)

The show is generally derivative and stereotypical, right down to calling the aliens “critters” (employing the military technique of giving your enemy a derogatory nickname in order to dehumanize them and make it easier to kill them) and blatantly stealing moves from previous alien franchises (and no, these do not count as homage, because then you would have to do it with less of a self-important attitude than Falling Skies displays). And while these points of criticism are true for other shows as well, they are particularly harmful and obvious precisely because apocalypse movies and shows (whether by alien or zombies or natural disasters) have such a long history. Falling Skies follows a tradition of alien invasion franchises that has seen many dark days and the makers should have learned their lesson. Instead they opted to go for a carbon-copy of basically every 90s alien movie you have seen and then collaged them into an altogether forgettable and irrelevant Summer TV show void of emotional nuances and stocked up to the roofs with human imperialism and entitlement.




Need more TV coverage?

Then unfortunately this week you’re out of luck. Blame the US General Consulate for demanding my presence this past week and thus preventing me from watching my usual amount of television. But the podcast will be back, stay tuned. And in the meantime, follow me on Twitter, where I talk TV all day, every day.


Join the discussion by commenting below or following us on Twitter: @cc2konline and @PhoebeRaven!