TNT and executive producer Steven Spielberg walk a tightrope with the alien invasion series "Falling Skies" (8 p.m. June 19, TNT; *** out of 4).
On one hand, they want to attract hard-core genre fans eager for thrilling sci-fi storytelling. On the other, they want to keep their show grounded enough in reality and the tropes of family drama to make it attractive to the general viewing public.
The high-wire act works, but not without some bobbles.
"Falling Skies" opens with a chilling twist to the oft-told post-apocalypse tale. A child narrates as viewers see kids’ drawings of what happened six months earlier when the "skitters" and "mechs" laid waste to Earth, wiping out the army, disabling everything that runs on electricity, and turning the children into drones by harnessing them with spinal implants.
This is not the Spielberg of “E.T.,” my friends. Children are not only in peril here, they also fight like soldiers. The show doesn’t shy away from showing young kids with rifles and ready to kick alien butt. It’s the new reality, and the survivors understand that with about 80 percent of humanity wiped out, it’s all hands on deck.
Our entry into the story—that child doing the opening voice-over—is Matt (Maxim Knight), the 8-year-old son of Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a former history professor who is now second-in-command of the 2nd Massachusetts regiment. The group is a ragtag mix of military people and civilians run by a hard-ass named Weaver (Will Patton).
Wyle takes a low-key approach to Tom, infusing him with brains and the surprise that his has brawn. Not to mention a rage bubbling just under the surface, no doubt because aliens have killed his wife, enslaved his middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup), and forced him to make a militia-man out of his oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy).
It’s fun watching Wyle, best known as Dr. John Carter on “ER,” get his action-hero groove on one minute and then share a quieter scene with his kids or with Moon Bloodgood, who plays a pediatrician-turned-field-doctor with whom he strikes up a friendship.
There is a “but” to that sentence: “Falling Skies” has far too many of those quiet moments. Again, this isn’t “E.T.,” but it’s definitely a Spielberg production (with Robert Rodat, who wrote “Saving Private Ryan”). The man can’t help but add cuddly moments to the thrills. They will be a major distraction for sci-fi fans who demand more aliens and shoot-outs over all the cute and sometimes corny family moments.
“Falling Skies,” although competently directed, acted and sometimes written, goes off on more than a few tangents and paint-by-numbers subplots of the genre. It’s best when it sticks to the main thread, and that’s the battle for survival and to learn what the six-legged freaks are doing with the children.