Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stupid is as stupid does...

Falling Skies...and for a bunch of allegedly smart people, the folks in Fallings Skies are pretty stupid.  This new TV series on TNT takes place six months after an alien invasion, and it focuses on a group of resistance fighters from Boston who call themselves the Second Massachusetts.  Like the movie District 9, Falling Skies glosses over the details of the first contact with the aliens and instead tells the story of what happens after the initial meeting--in this case, a meeting that nearly wiped out the human race.  I found this set-up really thought-provoking in District 9, and I think it has a lot of potential here, too.  It also makes me wonder: is this show just following District 9's lead, or does this mark some sort of larger trend to focus on the aftermath, rather than the alien invasion itself?  Furthermore, does this reflect something particular about our own society?

In addition to this setup, I've also really been enjoying some of the visual juxtapositions seen in the show.  In the pilot, the Second Massachusetts has to find a new secure location, and they are headed toward an armory where they think they might find weapons.  On their way, the group of 300 people--100 fighters and 200 civilians--makes camp in a suburb, filled with big houses, SUVs, and perfectly manicured lawns.  The contrast between the grubby horde of people and the perfection of the suburbs is visually arresting, and the subtle emotional impact of seeing a young boy wake up in a bed that very well could have been his, seven months earlier, and should have been his, right now, was compelling.

Noah WyleBut so far I've been frustrated with both the writers' assumptions about their viewers' (lack of) intelligence, as well as with the intelligence of the characters themselves.  Noah Wyle plays Tom Mason, a history professor who used to teach at Boston University--a fact that the pilot takes every possible opportunity to beat you over the head with.  The alien ships are impenetrable from the outside, so, as Tom helpfully points out, we need some way to get in to them--you know, like the Trojan horse.  Wham!  His son later asks him if he thinks tunneling into the ships would work, and Tom says that it did for Alexander in Macedonia.  Bam!  In later episodes this becomes much subtler with Tom, but gets dialed up with other characters, most noticeably with a college freshman named Lourdes.  As even her name suggests, Lourdes is a devout Catholic--something that we are reminded of at every. possible. opportunity.  Yes, themes of belief and faith have a lot of potential in a show about the apocalypse, but c'mon.  We get it already.  And there must be something more to Lourdes than praying and looking longingly after Hal (Tom's oldest son).

Even more than that, though, I would love for the characters in Falling Skies to show some common sense.  I understand that the show needs to create tension to drive things forward, but tension created because the characters act stupid?  Now that's just dumb.  Time and again, these army commanders, history professors, and medical doctors do really, really, stupid things, things like leaving a captive alien and a rescued boy (who had been held captive by the aliens by means of an organism that fused itself to his spine) in the same room together.  Does anyone see anything problematic about that?  Anything at all?  And what about taking the human prisoner named Pope, a smart-ass ex-con, along on a dangerous mission?  In what world is that a good idea?  Maybe it's because several of these first episodes focused on how to remove the alien harnesses without harming the children, but the medical doctors seem to be a particularly dim bunch.  Who makes flippant promises that a kid is going to be completely alright when he hasn't even regained consciousness? And why on earth wouldn't you get rid of the harness organism once you removed it, instead of leaving lying around where anyone could say, put it back on?

Falling Skies is definitely entertaining enough for me to keep watching, and some of the plot lines are genuninely interesting.  I'm particularly intrigued by a question posed in the pilot--why do the alien robots have two legs when the other aliens we see look like insects?  But unless the characters step it up and gain a bit of common sense, I fear that my viewings will be punctuated by a lot of irritated shouting at the TV and snarky muttering under my breath.