Falling Skies – Season 1

Column: The Word on DVDs   |   Date Published: Monday, 8 October 12   |   Author: Justin Hook   |   4 years, 6 months ago

Falling Skies has pedigree; Steven Spielberg co-produces, series creator Robert Rodat wrote Saving Private Ryan and Justified and creator Graham Yost is also on board. Plus it’s set six months after an alien invasion has wiped out millions so there’s plenty of opportunity for post-apocalyptic ennui. Finally, it had a killer promo poster of a giant suspended alien ship on the horizon, all dangly bits and metal menace. If you’re waiting for the ‘but’ you’ve come to the right place because, despite all these credentials, Falling Skies isn’t that great.

Cleverly, the show sidesteps the messy (and expensive) alien warfare storyline and cuts straight to the occupation plot where our space overlords are well into their colonisation efforts. No explanations are given as to why the invasion happened but characters speculate motives as they mount rolling insurrections and attempt to rescue hundreds of children that have been kidnapped and fitted with strange vertebrae devices that make them mindless worker drones for the aliens. There’s plenty to work with but it fails to fire.

This isn’t an action show so don’t expect big budget battles and the flashes of excitement are short-lived, looking cheap and underfunded. The whole gritty realism of a ragtag bunch of survivors was perfected by Battlestar Galactica and this simply doesn’t stack up. In the absence of dazzling set pieces, Falling Skies becomes a character-driven show about resilience and rebuilding. Problem is, the dialogue is universally B-grade, the actors often appear like they’re acting in completely different TV shows (one scene The A-Team, the next Dr Quinn Medicine Woman) and the ruminations on philosophy meant to provide depth only highlight how much better the show needs to get. Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood and Steven Webber try valiantly to lift Falling Skies to another level, but they fail.  

Hawaii Five-0:

Back in the day, Hawaii seemed like the most exotic location on earth. Eternally sunny, surrounded by beaches and forever in the grip of Casual Friday, it was the sort of place that looked great in travel brochures and on the idiot box. Problematically, idyllic locations don’t usually lend themselves to chaos, crime and dramatic tension. Sure, your car got stolen. Pull up a sun bed and a margarita. Plus, it’s a little bit distracting when every car chase is backgrounded by postcard-quality scenery.

The original Hawaii Five-0 exploited the relatively new colour TV medium and limited opportunity for mass plane travel to become the first example of travel show/weekly crime series. It was weekly free advertising for the Hawaii Tourist Board but to its credit it was also one of the first to have an extensive non-white cast.

This remake is a steady CBS performer, the latest in a long line of dependable crime procedurals. These shows (NCIS, CSI, Criminal Minds) are staggeringly popular and critically scorned because they offer quick resolutions to semi-serious problems. Moral quandaries are left in the locker with pictures of the wife and kids. To its credit, this second season has at least tried to break out of the crime-of-the-week shackles by introducing a conspiracy plot that bubbles away in the background, potentially going all the way to the top – as they tend to – thereby neatly overcoming the criminal constraints of a small holiday island.

Oddly, for a show trading on its good location, this reboot is far grittier than expected. However, plotting and dialogue has a tendency to fall into the ‘been there, done that’ realm and Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica) seems idle and bored. For a non-cable, network drama Hawaii Five-0 could be far worse, but it struggles to rise above average.

Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell:

Shaun Micallef is one of those guys you wish the best for, regardless of what he’s working on. Not a mean or vicious comedian but neither safe nor harmless, Micallef succeeds because he works hard and takes risks. Even his recent family-friendly vehicle (Talkin’ Bout Your Generation) had a sufficient amount of abstract wit to make it bearable. In small doses.

He enjoys one of the more balanced careers available in Australian entertainment – creating drama (BlackJack), film roles (Bad EggsThe King), TV roles (LaidOffspring) and his first love, comedy. Micallef’s career path is a reminder it’s never too late to drop everything, quit your day job at the law firm and move to Melbourne and live the life of a dirt poor struggling comedy writer. It’s also a reminder that you will probably struggle to find the right show that captures your world view – and when you do it probably won’t last anyway.

In this respect think of Mad as Hell as an updated version of Newstopia, the short-lived show that skewered politics and current affairs. Working with his regular collaborators (Francis Greenslade, Roz Hammond) Micallef takes the same approach on Mad as Hell. The format isn’t new – people have been poking fun at authority since Aristophanes hosted his first late night variety show at the Theatre of Dionysus. It’s the delivery that counts and Micallef has settled into the very comfortable role of Australia’s chief absurdist and deliverer of non-sequiturs.

Plus, he’s not afraid to use his intellect and allow punchlines to float. They don’t all land – some of the faux-interviews veer into the obvious, not working that well, and current affairs satire has a very limited shelf life – but for the here and now, Mad as Hell is funny. It’s good to have him back.  



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