Falling Skies Season 2 Premiere

Posted on June 18, 2012

The two-hour season premiere of Falling Skies may just be one of the best arguments we’ve encountered for giving a floundering show with a good concept some time to find its footing. The show’s creators have managed to pull off something incredibly rare in television: they turned a show completely around without retooling it from top to bottom.

We only blogged the first several episodes of season 1 before giving up on the show. We’d been burned by previous attempts at recapturing Lost in a bottle, such as V, The Event, and Persons Unknown, and we weren’t prepared to invest a lot of time in a similarly poorly thought-out television version of a science fiction story. “We can’t waste our time on a show that really doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing,” we said; adding, “The setup of the show is not being followed up on and no character in the story so far acts like any recognizable human being. It’s all plot hammering, all the time; and if that’s where you are only 4 hours into the series, there’s no reason for us to be optimistic about the show’s future.” And, just to prove how good we are at making these kinds of decisions, we ended our review by saying, “We’ll check out Torchwood when it comes back later this week and maybe we’ll pick that one up for our nerdy summer pleasure.”

HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, my sides! Next to Torchwood, Falling Skies was practically Shakespeare.

But we had good reason to not stick with the show after the first several episodes. It really was as lackluster and nonsensical as we made it sound. After we stopped blogging about it, there was a slight uptick in quality but never enough to get us back to it. The season finale ended on a fairly tense note, so we were willing to come back for a second look when Season 2 rolled around. Well color us blown away. It’s still the same show, with the same premise and 98% of the same cast, and yet somehow, the tone is completely different. This is, finally, the show that V should have been. That’s a nice thing to say about the show, but we’ll take it one step further: Falling Skies Season 2 is the show The Walking Dead should have been. It’s THAT much better than it used to be; better even than AMC’s critically lauded zombiefest.

We always have one requirement of post-apocalyptic scenarios: verisimilitude. That doesn’t necessarily mean we want to see all the nastiness that comes when a post-industrial society is violently returned to a pre-industrial state. It means we want to see people react to events in a manner that makes them recognizably human. That was one of the things Lost did so well and why it’s held up as the standard to which all other sci-fi/adventure shows are compared; because it was easy to understand the characters and their motivations. To us, there’s no point in writing a speculative fiction story unless you’re willing to spend serious amounts of time examining the motivations of the characters. The very best science fiction has the human element locked down, even when it’s not dealing with humans, necessarily.

We look at the characters on Falling Skies and we see people who have been deeply affected, if not irrevocably damaged by the events they’ve witnessed and the actions they’ve had to take. In short: people look like shit. Stressed out, dirty, and not playing to the camera or trying to catch the light just so. Sure, it’s an uncommonly attractive cast, but no one ever gets a glamour shot; not even the uber-heroic, “walking in slow motion with a shotgun on his shoulder” Walking Dead-style  ones. In Falling Skies, heroism isn’t square-jawed and looking off to the horizon; it’s tense and scared, sweaty and bloody, in a war fought and won by inches. When Tom and Anne get a reunion after a long separation and a private declaration of their love for each other, the scene isn’t played for huge emotion. The strings do not swell; there are no meaningful looks passed back and forth. People are in an incredibly dangerous situation and don’t have time for movie-style romances. We love that.

Even better, there are two major characters who are teenage boys, and, unlike every single other sci-fi show with teen male characters (V and Terra Nova come to mind), these two characters are interesting and not really all that annoying, even though they’re as reckless and angsty as any of their sci-fi counterparts. Noah Wyle is our very favorite kind of hero (the rarest kind there is): the smart kind. Sure, he can handle a gun and he’s heroic and self-sacrificing, but the story makes it clear over and over that what makes Tom dangerous to the aliens and essential to the 2nd Mass is the fact that he’s smart. Moon Bloodgood, who we’re pretty sure will never be topped in the ridiculously fabulous name department, offers a female hero who isn’t defined by her looks or relegated to being a damsel in distress or nurturer, even though she’s gorgeous and is a doctor. She’s got a spine to her and lacks any of the sort of limp girliness that infects female characters in post-apoc scenarios (Lori Grimes from the Walking Dead, we’re totally looking at you right now). She’s fierce and competent, smart and soulful. She’s our favorite sci-fi heroine in some time and she embodies the acting style on display here: underplayed. Almost everything is underplayed now (unlike last season) and it’s to the show’s enormous benefit. It’s more tense and interesting to have your characters weighing their options and taking action without a lot of histrionics. In fact, histrionics would be considered a luxury in this world. The low-key acting increases the tension and the investment in the characters because no one likes a braying jackass in the middle of a firefight.

Which brings us to Pseudo-Sawyer, the long-haired biker dude who says “Man” a lot and causes trouble. He’s weak, writers. Kill him. He strikes us one of the holdovers from the season 1 way of thinking; he’s loud and obnoxious; dressed in a cable TV show’s version of what a biker would look like (David Lee Roth circa 1986, apparently) and every time he appears we wonder why the group allows him to stay. Writers, trust us when we say, the show would be better if you cut Psawyer loose.

But that’s really a minor complaint. As always, we make no predictions about the quality of the show going forward, but once they put the machine gun in the hands of an 8-year-old, we happily realized that the show had shed the last of its Spielbergian schmaltz and decided to go for broke. It’s so on.


[Photo Credit: Michael Muller/TNT]

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  • Totally agree, especially about Psawyer. This season’s premiere was an excellent almost “reboot” of last season. Really enjoyed it.

  • kingderella

    so, im vaguely intrigued by this show… where do i start watching? at the beginning, or is there a handy jumping on point?

    also, moon bloodgood is great and all, but how can you proclaim that she will never be topped, right after the return of gunnar deatherage and the rise of fan bingbing?

    •  We think you could probably start with the S2 premiere. It’ll get you up to speed on the backstory, which isn’t really all that complicated to begin with, what with it being a fairly standard “aliens are here to steal our children” story.

      • Absolutely. I remember thinking after watching it that I could have just skipped the whole first season and started here. 

  • Violina23

    “The very best science fiction has the human element locked down, even when it’s not dealing with humans, necessarily.”

    If you haven’t seen it before, I absolutely IMPLORE you to consider watching “Babylon 5” The first season can be a bit rough/spotty at times as it finds its footing, but it gets SO crazy good.  And the reason for it is that amidst an intense and well-developed 5-season-long arc, there are AMAZINGLY fleshed-out and 3-dimensional characters, with clearly understood motivations and behaviors. 

  • JMB_edits

    I bailed on S1 right around when you did, I may have to go back and find a re-airing this week and see if I want to go back.

  • Hmmm, you’ve intrigued me enough to check it out but if S1 was so bad will I live through watching it? Decisions! Decisions!

  • hm.  now I am interested in this show. I was not prior to this post. 

  • MilaXX

    I’m still not 100 % sold on coming back to this show, but with the hype machine in full effect and nothing else on to watch I tuned in last night. I didn’t completely hate it, except for long haired biker dude, and I hated the speech with the aliens about putting the remaining humans in internment camps and how they learned that from  reading human history. It’s summer and pickings are slim, so I’m willing to give it another try.

    • Actually, I liked that speech, or rather, that exchange between Noah Wiley and the Lizard Queen. In a show like this, it seemed inevitable that there would be some hand-wringing scene where people wonder if humanity is too cruel to deserve a second chance, blah blah blah. I’m glad they nipped that in the bud here, that the human on the spot correctly pointed out that the invaders have no redeeming qualities, and that all the captured humans reached the same conclusion.

      I considered writing Fivers for this show, but it seems … I dunno, with this rather serious uptick in quality, I’m not sure it’ll be as fun to make fun of, like V was.

  • Pennymac

    The season premier ads interested me, so I on-demanded last season to get the back story. I watched and made comparisons to Walking Dead. Psycho-pseudo leader? CHECK! Blonde chick that likes guns? CHECK! Kinda dirty hot motorcycle guy with a chip on his shoulder? CHECK Irritating hero progeny? CHECK!

    Last nights episode ended those comparisons for me; shit got done; shit made sense; and while people talked about stuff, they acted on it with believable motives. I’m In!

  • nancy

    Nice to see this show come back with some strength, I enjoyed it, to my own surprise. There’s still plenty to laugh at, but there were some great effects, my eye is still twitching… Yes, kill off scroungy poser biker dude. Not so much a Sawyer-lite to me, but a wannabe Darryl, and his character really adds nothing.

  • CozyCat

      With all the high profile scifi type shows that have come out in the last few years, what was surpising is how much better the writing was on this little show last night.  As you boys mention, the characters were pretty realistic.  Moreover, the drama wasn’t generated by our heros doing something stupid (as per V and the Walking Dead).  And they did a good job of showing us instead of telling us how desparate the rest of the world is (without using obiously expensive CGI) so we didn’t need a big Crispen’s Day speech to let us know the importance of our little band of freedom fighters.  That’s just decent storytelling
    –nothing Emmy worthy, but surprisngly rare nonetheless. 

  • donnaINseattle

    Hmmmm . . . I recorded it (with the intent of giving it one last chance . . . well, giving Noah Wylie one last chance) and now am looking forward to it.

  • nycfan

    I had pretty much all the same complaints about season 1 as TLo, and having been burned by the various Lost-esque attempts, remain wary of investing any more time in Falling Skies.  But I was very encouraged by an interview I read with the new show-runner this weekend (formerly of Caprica) — he clearly acknowledged some of the issues and seemed poised to reboot the show.  This seals it, I’ll make time to check it out.

  • I hated Pope right from the start, the character is ridiculous! Now they’ve added Ryan Robbins, who I really liked in Sanctuary, to Pope’s crew… so we’re gonna have two wisecracking criminal types?  If they must keep Pope, I hope they let him ease on into the background. It was unrealistic having him be the guy who can literally do everything – he can make bullets, he can cook, he’s a comedian, oh and don’t forget he’s a badass who’s a bit rapey. bleh.

    I was also impressed with the season premiere, but I didn’t have high expectations. Hopefully the show will continue to get better, and they’ll continue to weed out or change the silly cast members. 

  • mexirish5939

    I’m just curious as to why you’re focusing on Falling Skies rather than The Borgias which has an intriguing storyline as well as beautiful people wearing sumptuous costumes.

  • Scott Hester-Johnson

    Whoa whoa whoa! Torchwood is coming back next week!??!

    • jhedman

       No, the comparison was to last summer’s Torchwood, which I am so very, very glad I skipped.

      • Scott Hester-Johnson

        Torchwood is head and shoulders way better than this mess. I don’t know what TLo are smoking, but these two eps of FS are more of the same dreck as last season. I’ll continue watching, of course, but I still want that little kid dead.

  • jhedman

    I was amazed at how much tension they generated, how well they filled us in on Tom’s absence — perfect job of showing, not telling — and, well, pretty much everything.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show turn around quite so well in just 2 episodes.  Last year, it was our guilty pleasure viewing.  We watched as a family and enjoyed shredding it.  These two episodes, we enjoyed for what they were.  Let’s hope they can keep it up.

  • I actually stuck around for the whole 1st season and am glad to see the show grow and get better. I’m also glad that they finally wrote a teenage character whose defining characteristic isn’t being an asshole…but there was something that bugged me about Tom’s confrontation with the head alien in charge…why don’t aliens wear clothes? Why are they always naked? Predator is the only alien I can think of that wears clothes. Don’t they get cold? Don’t they like fashion?

  • michelle shields

    We watched the first season last summer and rewatched all 10 episodes over the weekend. Glad to see you guys giving it another chance.

  • Call me Bee

    I agree with everything you said.  This was the first episde I’ve seen, and it was easy to catch up and understand the situation.  The only thing that annoyed me was the Tom character going on (and on and on..) about keeping keeping their humanity.  Yes–of course they must.  But I didn’t need to hear about it over and over. 
    But–a minor quibble.  It was a thoroughly entertaining and creepy episode.  (My eyes, my eyes!) 

  • GorgeousThings

    I lost interest in this show about two weeks after you did, but the kids wanted to see the premier. WOW! Add me to the color-impressed. I hope they can keep it up. It’s a little like Battlestar Galactica right now, with the moving on to the next stop. I hope they get to come into some city and make a stand against the aliens. That prison guard skitterer may shape up interestingly, too.

  • Thanks for the great review!  It makes all the hard work, sweat and agony that went into writing the 2nd Season worthwhile.

  • TieDye64

    You’ve piqued my interest, for sure. Like you guys, I gave up on season 1 as well. The characters and their actions stopped ringing true. I’ll be checking out S2 and hoping for the best. Thanks for the heads up!

  • BobSmith111

    Falling Skies never did
    let me down and I finally saw this episode yesterday using Dish Online. Dish
    Online is a place where Dish customers and employees like me, can stream all my
    favorite shows and movies directly to my PC’s when I want to watch them. It was
    weird to think about aliens coming for the kids, but it’s a great story.

  • Puckndc

    I stopped watching these kind of shows because they were so frustrating…..and the networks pull the plug just when it gets interesting with no resolution…Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury exhibit  A: The Event!

  • SVLynn

    Whoa, so I’m not the only one watching this, woo hoo! So glad to see you are going to blog on it, TV is pretty slim pickings right now. I agree, they seemed to have toned down the sap quite a bit, and indeed a smart hero, love it. I too hate the biker. Ugliest aliens ever, that and the harnesses creep me out I think more than the walking dead’s zombies it that is possible. I know they needed to save the larvae that crawled out of his eye to move that plot forward, but I think anyone would have stomped on it pretty quick if they were already worried that the aliens had done something to him on the ship. I just hope we’re not going to see alot of that kind of writing. The kids are less annoying than season 1, not as phenomenal as the Game of Thrones kiddos, but hey it’s summer TV.

  • SVLynn

    Also nice to see the teacher who didn’t kill Rosie Larson in his new MacGyveresque role!

  • PrunellaV

    Falling Skies Season 2 is the show The Walking Dead should have been.

    These are the magic words. I’m reading no further. Much as I love TWD, I’ve gotta check this show out.