The Skitters and hot doctors of Falling Skies

Falling skies got off to a good start with its two-hour premier, dropping the audience into an unexplained, nearly-conquered world with lots of actionable momentum.

Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is a history professor thrown into a position of leadership in the Second Massachusetts, a militia force gathered to fight off the mysterious alien force, which attacked The Earth six months earlier.

As the story opens, the force is splitting off from the main regiment due to an observation that the aliens are learning to spot smaller and smaller groups of people, leading them to require that no group be larger than two-hundred.

These first three episodes have so far mostly followed Tom as he tries to rescue his son from the aliens, who make a practice of capturing children for slaves. The drama of the story is very personal, but sometimes feels over devised, as characters will occasionally make some really dumb decisions, and fill themselves with plot-blindness.

Perhaps this is even accurate for a group under so much pressure, but most of the time the characters are depicted as fairly competent and careful people, yet almost all of their conflict comes from one of their number going off and doing something dumb.

As with almost all pilots, it’s clear that the cast has not yet fallen fully into their roles, but already in the third episode, the roles are pulling together more cohesively.

Noah Wyle plays well the professor out of his element, and Will Patton was great right off the bat. Not surprising, of course, since he’s basically playing the same character he played in The Postman: The hard-nosed no-nonsense military leader who puts the logistical needs of the war before everything else.

Of course, here he’s a good guy, and not completely amoral, but the attitude is the same. Foiling Patton’s character is the spunky, pretty pediatrician-turned-field-medic, played by Moon Bloodgood. Expect these two to come to odds over something nearly every episode with our protagonist stuck between them as they argue the importance of military over civilian needs.

Out in the field, our characters are a little flat. When Tom goes out to scout and fight, he brings a small, loyal team of fighters with him, but as yet, they all seem about the same. I mean one is Tom’s oldest son, and one is “the hot one,” but that’s about as distinctive as they get. Hopefully, as the series moves forward, these actors get the hang of some individuality, and turn into a cohesive team, otherwise the action of the show will start to suffer.

The most interesting addition to the cast, however is Colin Cunningham, who plays well the leader of a gang on violent misfits. The role is again not really a stretch for the actor, but of all the characters, he’s the one I’m most looking forward to the development of.

The sets and effects are about on par with a modern television sci-fi. Not HBO good, of course, but the effects supervisor and set designer seem to know how to do a lot with a little, and so far the backdrops have been convincing. The alien creatures are a little silly, however, all wrinkly and slimy, and generally gross, which doesn’t actually make all that much sense, but that’s our culture I guess.

Overall, I’m pleased with the way the series is going. If nothing else, I’m happy to see a new sci-fi story on television, and one which is not an adaptation of an existing story, so the writers are free to go where they need to go, and to surprise us with the paths they take. We just have to hope that they don’t squander the opportunity.

Falling Skies runs Sunday nights on TNT.