The first wave of summer TV's sci-fi/fantasy invasion is upon us, and while the new arrivals take themselves a bit more seriously than we're accustomed to — for whimsy, you'll have to wait for Syfy's Warehouse 13 and Eureka to return in July — this doesn't necessarily rule out a good time.
TNT's looks-like-a-hit Falling Skies is pure popcorn TV, the sort of show ABC's dilly-dallying and now-defunct V should have been. It wastes no time getting down to business. An alien invasion has crippled Earth, and we're well into the aftermath (sparing us clichéd shots of exploding monuments) as a band of rebel survivors, a mix of military and civilian, wage battle on the same Massachusetts turf where a Revolutionary War once took place. Evoking a more recent historic horror, a wall of the missing recalls 9/11 while asserting the high stakes.
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"They die just like us. You just have to get close," says former history professor Tom Mason (the appealing Noah Wyle) of the alien "Skitters," multi-tentacled creatures accompanied by armed behemoth robots called "Mechs." They've enslaved a number of young people, including one of Tom's sons, rigging them with sinister harnesses along their spines, turning them into drones.
Save the kids, save humanity: a tall order for the human underdogs, reduced to scavenging for supplies and food. When resting between thrilling action scenes, it's all very earnest, never campy or cheesy — but not particularly sophisticated or deep, either. It doesn't really have to be as long as it's entertaining. By those standards, Falling Skies succeeds.
If you'd rather go out of this world, you can sample BBC America's Outcasts (reminiscent of NBC's mid-'90s dud Earth 2), set on a colonized planet named Carpathia — after the Titanic's rescue ship — where refugees from a destroyed Earth have uneasily started a new civilization.
How the British got there without the superpowers showing up remains a mystery. Talky and grim, and more than a little bland, Outcasts almost entirely lacks humor, wonder and engaging characters. Even familiar faces like Battlestar Galactica's Jamie Bamber and Ugly Betty's Eric Mabius do little to liven things up.
Can't say I'm surprised to learn this was canceled after one eight-episode season. Something tells me Falling Skies will be around for a considerably longer time.
Falling Skies premieres Sunday, 9/8c, on TNT; Outcasts premieres Saturday, 9/8c, on BBC America