Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Falling Expectations

Another of my periodic examinations (with umpteen spoilers, so be warned) of the other shit TV I've been watching...

If I've expressed amazement in the past at the renewal of Haven, I was bemused beyond belief that Falling Skies has been picked up for a second season. Perhaps executive producer Steven Spielberg is going to pay for it with his loose change?

Falling Skies (FS) is pretty much the second worst SF/drama on the schedules, but unlike that personal guilty pleasure of mine often talked about here, this is just plain awful. I reviewed the first episodes about 8 weeks ago and concluded that it was a mix of V, The Walking Dead and a no-budget straight to DVD movie. Noah Wylie's presence just makes you wonder if he was doing someone a favour (but we'll come back to this).

It is six months after an alien invasion that has decimated the population, made mincemeat of the armies of the world and presumably shrugged off all the weapons we possessed. Once the aliens occupied the planet, they set about enslaving all the adolescents by attaching some Tingler-like harness to their backbones. These slaves then go about collecting scrap metal and generally being the alien workforce. The resistance - consisting of a rag tag bunch of reservists and civilians with gun training - is eking out an existence in the wastelands of USA, in broad daylight and as load as they like, while trying to win some battles for the beleaguered human race.

Even the premise is a bit pants, especially when you see the aliens, or who you think are the aliens. The 'Skitters' are six legged creatures capable of tearing a man apart; the Mechs are bipedal armoured robots that fire bullets that made a Colt 45 seem like a tickle from a feather. You can kill both with high calibre bullets or explosives; the general impression is that they are not that difficult to kill, it's just hard work.

The story follows the Massachusetts' 2nd; a ragtag bunch of fighters and civilians led by a commanding officer played by Will Patton, who is about as believable as Peter Pan and does nothing to endear himself to the viewer. He is the first character you don't care what happens to.

Instead of following a potentially weak idea up with a good story seemed to escape the writers and instead of exploring the raison detre of the aliens and inconsistencies of the invasion, the cast spend about 6 episodes looking at the human interaction and poor loosely threaded vignettes designed, I should think, to give you more empathy with the main characters. Where dystopia brings out the worst in people in the best way in The Walking Dead, all that it does with FS is make you constantly wonder how these people are alive when there are trained soldiers out there who can just about survive on the surface of the sun because they're that 'ard who are all apparently very dead.

The subplots meander; the main plot almost doesn't exist - it's a kind of static road movie with guns and it sort of offers up teasers and clues to what is going on, but there is an overwhelming feeling of 'who cares?' Then, in the age old tradition of this kind of treading water serial, it tries to do more in the penultimate episode than it has before and still fails to deliver even an interested noise from me. There are now proper aliens, because it is suspected that the Skitters are actually mutated adolescents, a cause of them being harnessed. One of the mildly interesting characters, who is essentially just a bit of a stereotypical redneck crook with a heart, develops a bullet that can do as much damage to the Mechs as they do and they come up with a device to jam the alien communications. But again, there's a 'so what' attitude; there are so many inconsistencies and ridiculously obvious unanswered questions and prepositions that you seriously have to question the intelligence of the US viewers who have made it worthy of a second season.

The grand finale has to be one of the weakest action scenes and cliffhanger I have ever witnessed. Noah Wylie's character takes out an alien construct with just a rocket launcher; the aliens' Achilles heel is a bog standard weapon with some Mech plating on the shell? How did they conquer Earth so easily if all you need is a few grenades to blow them up? Then, in what I presume was meant to be the real event, the aliens, who never seem to know where Noah and his band of stragglers are, just land in front of the departing fighters and explain that they didn't expect to get this resistance from the survivors and they wish for Wylie to go with them, to talk. So he gets onto the alien craft and the series ends. It could be that by the time the final episode was shot, Wylie decided that he needed out and this at least gives him a way out.

FS is shit. It is badly acted; the scripts seem phoned in; people do improbably stupid things and the producers' intentions of building a community that the viewer believes in is a pipe dream and it's just a little heavy handed with the schmaltz. If you're watching it on FX, it gets no better and if anything gets exasperatingly worse. If you intend to watch it on terrestrial TV when it arrives, don't. It really isn't worth the effort and to make things much much worse, despite Spielberg's name attached, it looks like it has been made for about $50 an episode. The special FX are hopeless; the acting is wooden and the sets are obviously staged. It's a bad idea done worse.


The turgidly named SyFy Channel has become synonymous with producing utter shit, yet they have two good shows that on the surface should never, ever, be. Eureka is a mixture of Einstein A-Go-Go and Die Hard. It's essentially a comedy in a 'aren't nerds funny' kind of way, yet it has story lines that are very dark. It is both superficial and complex, has a bunch of relatively likeable characters, who are all different, and despite it's irregular scheduling, over-dependence on cheap SFX and some lame stories, there is something reassuring and comfortable about having it back on.

It is also a show that, I believe, has turned jumping the shark into an art form. I think the show does it for fun rather than to boost ratings. It's very much a series where things get changed or change pretty quickly, but the core characters remain the same. It is therefore full of its own kinds of inconsistencies, but its quirky nature seems to allow it to get away with things other shows wouldn't. It also has probably one of the best 'death' scenes ever in modern TV, one that really shocks in an astounding way.

SyFy's other genuine hit is Warehouse 13. It is one of the most bonkers TV shows out there and like most other SyFy shows it staggers around in a drunken haze of stories and subplots that don't always work. Yet, it is quite brilliant. It is the one TV show I can guarantee a laugh out loud moment - normally provided by agent Pete Latimer, but not exclusively.

W13 is the X Files crossed with Moonlighting with soup├žon of The Brady Bunch. It started as just a kind of comical X Files but soon developed into a truly bizarre series displaying an eccentricity and surreal feel that no other show in the USA has ever managed.

W13 also is all about the concept of the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is the place where the Ark of the Covenant might have gone; it is the place where all supernatural imbued artefacts are kept safe. It is also a law unto itself.

It is one of the rare TV shows where the plot takes a back seat to the interaction and development of the characters and their relationships. The writers know that the stars of the show are the characters not the stories they get involved in and unlike a lot of TV, you even start to feel sorry for some of the villains in this. It is a great way to spend 42½ minutes and it has Allison Scaglioti in it - the sexiest geek you will ever see.


Halfway through an entertaining but essentially quite stupid season of True Blood - the one currently showing on HBO at the moment - I came to the conclusion that it isn't actually that good. It's enjoyable and I enjoy watching it, but I no longer know why - perhaps it's familiarity. Oddly enough the show is becoming more and more like a cross between 1984 and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I christened it Carry on Vamping several weeks ago and I still feel it's just an excuse to get the tits out.

It's trying to do too much and not spending enough time on anything much. There is an element of confusion beginning to creep into the series and like so many other TV shows, it just isn't giving enough away any more.


Finally, Torchwood.

Hmm. It's a bit schizophrenic. Very few of the characters are believable and Eve Myles really can't act to save her life. I'm sure there's an explanation in the offing.

I got more of a kick out of the guy who played Ianto appearing in W13 than I have from anything in this Miracle Day. Even the once delectable Lauren Ambrose is looking a bit ropey...

1 comment:

  1. I have no idea what's going on with Torchwood; it's a mess.

    I haven't seen Eureka, but I have enjoyed what I've seen of Warehouse 13. It reminds me of those episodes of The X-Files where they were comfortably at the top of the ratings, so started doing comedy episodes.