Monday, August 20, 2012

Falling Skies

Tonight (when I write this) is the second season finale, but I haven't watched it so there's no worry about spoilers. I am caught up, though, as of last week, and it has taken a total of 19 episodes over two summers to become interesting. This is a fairly harsh criticism of the show, but as much as I love Science Fiction I can't say this is a genre-worthy effort. The new TV version of V really should have gone this route, but didn't and that was a much better attempt at a "humans resist an alien occupation" story. I write this in the vain hope that someone attached to the show might actually read this and fix some, if not all, of my issues. Not being one who just says something is terrible and walks away, I will justify my displeasure with Falling Skies in the following paragraphs.

But first, maybe I should say something good. There are a few solid actors with good performances, and that helps me stomach most of the "over-Drama". The location shooting and sets are incredibly well done. I believe they really are in a ruined urban environment. The alien mech design, and alien tech in general, is pretty interesting. And the opening credit of the Falling Skies logo over the Earth looks great, but it doesn't contextual fit with the story.

Now for the bad stuff. DreamWorks is attached which helps with the budget, because this show needs it. I expect a lot out of Spielberg's name and the special effects often look cheap. I know they're doing their best with limited resources but I just can't buy into the invasion if the aliens look like poor CG. It has improved since last year, but not by much. They try to hide this by doing a lot of stuff at night, but that just muddles the action, too. I want to watch the resistance, not hear shouting in the dark. The action scenes should be understandable.

There seems to be a mystery in the background of the story, but I don't feel any closer to finding out why the aliens are on Earth, which seems pretty important to me. There are only ten episodes produced a year. There isn't time to drag out a mystery like you're making the next version of Lost. Once every couple episode someone will ask a good question (i.e. Why do aliens kidnap children? Why do the mechs have two legs when the aliens have six? Why are they tearing apart the city to build other structures?). Then, something random happens like a medical emergency or a child goes missing or any excuse not to further the plot. The stories just go in circles about surviving the day. The writers seem to have forgotten everyone is part of a military unit tasked with scouting the enemy and attacking vulnerable points. Make the occupation painful.

How many humans died? It seems to me that human civilization is over. Just like Independence Day there are massive casualties and city-wide destruction. If there are even enough humans to band together and kick the aliens off Earth, can anyone rebuild the society? Nobody seems to realize that if the resistance fails that's it for humanity. If the leadership can't get the very best of the people under them then everyone is doomed. And yet, characters argue the morality of teaching their kids to use guns. This isn't the same society as the viewing audience. Even Rick taught his kid, Carl, how to shoot zombies in The Walking Dead. There is a good chance here to compare the new morality of survivalism with what we viewers are used to. That's what Sci-Fi does, it helps us see ourselves in a different light.

The key moments I want to see in the show all happen off screen. The opening invasion is depicted by a voice-over from a child in a therapy session. There are crayon pictures of destruction. Unacceptable! The viewers deserve to see the invasion, so as adults we can put it into perspective for the characters. As it stands the war seems like a nine-to-five job. This season, the 2nd Mass' nurse under Dr. Anne Glass, Lourdes (who is given terrible dialog and rarely has anything important to do in a scene), gets a boyfriend, Jamil. He is not introduced in the show but in the comic book that takes place in the three months between the seasons. Why should I have to read the comic to learn the character? They couldn't have given him five minutes in an episode? SPOILER WARNING: he's killed horribly in front of Lourdes during episode 7. She falls apart in every episode after that because they were so close. But we never saw that happen because it occurred during the two weeks between episode 6 and 7. Season 2 often refers to The Battle of Fitchburg, and very specifically, SPOILER again, in episode 3 a boy, Jimmy, is killed and a compass of his is stolen by Pope (more on him). Unless you read the comic (or the smart-phone app) you won't know the significance of either. That is unacceptable story telling.

Who the hell is Pope? I hate his character. He's introduced as a leader of outlaws, killing aliens or humans who get near his territory. But he learned a lot of survival and has good intel on how to kill aliens. He knows humanity is doomed so he's carving out his place to watch the world burn. If he drinks, murders, rapes and pillages then so be it. Then they made him join the cast and he becomes an idiot. It took an 8-year-old's suggestion for him to use alien bullets to kill other aliens. Really? I though of that in the first episode, and he's supposed to be an expert at creative killing techniques? Once he's tamed and everyone likes him the first season ends, but season two starts three months later. He's volatile and commands a group called the Berserkers who act like they're in the Road Warrior. No explanation what happened or how he got his own unit, which itself is weird because nobody likes any of them. Something happened the writers didn't let us in on.

I understand there should be young people in the show, it is made up of refugees (and aliens don't actually kill children), but these kids can't act. From the kid point of view it must look awesome to see all these adults running around with guns, but no one stops to teach the kids context or what happened to the world, so they just keep getting in the way. Matt, Tom's youngest, constantly wants to join the fight. He's eight, I think. Everyone says he's "too young" without telling him (or us) what "too young" means in this new world. This constitutes the bulk of the family drama, parents hiding the horrors of the occupation and near genocide of the human race from their kids. They even put the kids in school to keep the illusion that everything is normal.

Maybe Falling Skies isn't meant for me. It comes off as a family show (with teenager and kid issues), but it seems really out of place. The main character, Tom Mason, has too many kids, Hal, Ben and Matt. He can't keep track of them. In fact the series starts with one of his kids missing and Tom is willing to jeopardize the whole unit to save him. In the process Hal's girlfriend gets captured, which leads him to do more suicidal missions. This really goes to the crux of my issues; the story. 

Was each episode written by a committee? Almost all the scripts have equal parts teen romance, father-son moment, other family drama, medical drama, character drama and combat. Neither of these plot threads are strong enough on their own, but to shove them together in one story just frustrates me. Switching between six different plot points with six different tones ruins the tempo. There are too many characters that I don't care about getting too much screen time.

Falling Skies is a character drama pretending to be Science Fiction. Most of the time the camera is on a character at the height if his/her emotion at the expense of the story. No matter what's happening somewhere else, if a character is crying, the camera moves to them. Most of the drama is forced like the issue of Tom and Ben's capture. There are lots of people in every episode complaining they shouldn't be let back in the 2nd Mass. Same argument, with drama, every episode. Get over it. Episode 8 of this year has everyone arrive at Charleston to join the Continental Army. They drove all the way from New York to get there through alien occupied and devastated countryside only to find the bridge to the city was out. They stopped and cried a whole bunch. They gave up! You can't even see the city to know no one is there. Then, at the lowest dramatic point the Continental Army shows up and gives everyone hope for the future.

So my quick and easy fix is to drop the character drama and teen romance drivel. There is a mission to liberate Earth that the show forgot about. If this is a family show then why emphasize all the death and destruction. Show how the kids are having to learn to grow up out of it. All the characters seem to think everything will go back to normal as soon as the aliens leave. They need to change their attitude and be realistic. There have been two or three first contact moments where the viewers almost learned something important. The alien invasion just happened, there wasn't a breakdown in diplomacy, so any chance to actually talk to an alien should be jumped at. Think of Independence Day, again. And most of all, start answering questions before introducing new ones. I want this show to work as it appears to have a season 3. Maybe they could borrow some writers from Jericho.