Falling Skies opens in the aftermath of an alien attack that has left most of the world completely incapacitated. The few remaining survivors have banded together. Each day is a test of survival as citizen soldiers work to protect the people while engaging in a campaign against the occupying alien force, whose purpose remains a mystery. Starring Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, and Will Patton.
There was no shortage of movies and TV shows about aliens invading Earth before Falling Skies came along; in fact, Steven Spielberg, executive producer of TNT's sci-fi/drama show (which debuts on DVD with the 10 first-season episodes, plus some short bonus featurettes, on three discs), was involved in a good many of them. But this one takes a different tack: when the pilot episode begins, the invasion has already happened… and we lost, big time. Sure, not depicting the nasty aliens' arrival and decimation of the world as we knew it saved someone a pile of special effects money--but it also makes for an interesting show dynamic. When we catch up to Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a history professor and one of the unexpected leaders of the human insurgency, and the chief soldier, hard-ass Captain Weaver (Will Patton), they're already deep into trying to figure out how to protect the few remaining humans and how to fight back against a vastly superior alien force of spider-like, Alien-faced "skitters" and giant, stomping robot "mechs." Then there's this: the alien leaders are especially interested in teenagers, whom they seize and enslave by fusing living, spine-like "harnesses" to the kids' backs. Tom knows that one of the captured teens is his son, and he devotes much of his energy to rescuing the boy. But what neither he nor anyone else can figure out is exactly what the aliens' agenda might be, and it isn't until the 10th and final episode (a cliffhanger, of course), when the "2nd Mass" (i.e., Tom and Weaver's Boston-based militia) are ready to launch an all-out attack on the invaders, that we finally get some clarity.
Falling Skies has plenty going for it: good acting, some intriguing story ideas, nice (if limited) effects. What it doesn't have is much action (a fight scene between Tom and a skitter is an exception), or the kind of ramped-up tension one expects from a project with Spielberg's name attached. Episodes tend to be talky and somewhat dull; earnest conversation about the future of humanity and the importance of sticking together in the face of impending disaster is all well and good, but a few extra dollops of excitement (something Spielberg provided in his 2005 version of War of the Worlds) would have helped. Here's hoping for bigger and better in season two. --Sam Graham