Storytelling Done Okay: Falling Skies

I started watching Falling Skies with real enthusiasm when it first aired. I won’t try to deny that I’m a sucker for anything that prominently features a historian. From the initial season, Falling Skies promised the perfect combination: the chief main character was a history professor, and there were aliens. Awesome. Throw in high stakes and a general sense of human-decency-at-work, and overall this was a pretty good show. At some point it lost a bit of interest for me (the last season languished a long time in the DVR), but I really did like how the characters behaved with a lasting sense of optimism and morality. Too many of the “world gone wrong” shows depict everyone at their most hopeless and worst. And that’s interesting for about five minutes. It’s the cast of characters with a code of conduct that keep me riveted because I wonder how long they will hold up under the strain.

As a happy bonus, most of the characters behave like sensible, trustworthy adults. You know, the way people really would if they could rise to the occasion and gave a damn about the folks around them. No host of ninnies here, despite their problems they haul themselves along without turning into total jackasses (most of them, anyway). I thoroughly enjoyed watching them grapple with the real question of what to do, how to do it, and at what various costs. Unfortunately, the very thing that pulled me in (Noah Wyle’s history prof character) got tiresome rather quickly. Every other episode there would be an especially dark moment where he would gather everyone around and declare that this reminded him of some heroic American figure, “and, so, like our beloved George Washington, we shall thus-and-such, and on and on…” and it always felt forced. Like a well-meaning auntie trying to sneak a healthy snack into an otherwise inoffensive care package. (And I love history, but none of the history lessons came across naturally, I thought.)

My biggest complaint was that, in retrospect, the characters spent a lot of time declaring how much they’d learned from their mistakes, only to make similar ones at the very next opportunity. They were more likable and competent than most doomsday stories’ characters, but for all their claims to having “learned our lessons” they seemed to cover a lot of the same old ground. Still, having said that, I’d recommend the show to anyone who likes general sci-fi. Having room for improvement is no black mark against an agreeable story.

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