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Falling Skies – Season One - Episode One: "Live and Learn" Review

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Written by : published Friday 15th July 2011

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Watch Falling Skies here: http://www.thetvking.com/tvshows/27105/falling-skies/

The opening scenes of Live and Learn, the first episode in FX’s new alien invasion series Falling Skies, were exciting and well executed. Children narrate their tales of the invasion, which has seen mass devastation across the globe, while painting pictures of their experiences. We pan out to reveal a child who confesses that he doesn’t know whether his dad is dead or not. “Where is he?” asks the woman looking after him. “He’s fighting,” he replies. Cut to an explosive opening sequence.  We see the state of things since the aliens invaded, we see the aliens themselves, we see explosions and we see death. It’s fantastic stuff which sets high expectations for what’s to come, which is why it came as such a disappointment that the majority of the rest of the episode was fairly mediocre.

 

Compared to similar shows like the recently cancelled V, Falling Skies takes us down a different route in the alien invasion genre by sparing the viewer scenes of the initial attack. It instead thrusts us straight into the action, 6 months later. 

 

This might be new territory for an alien invasion series, but it is almost impossible for this new, Steven Spielberg-produced, show to avoid comparisons with zombie-survival series The Walking Dead. Both deal with the same key theme: a father’s struggle to save his family in a world gone to hell.

 

There are obvious differences, of course – the group of survivors we encounter in Live and Learn is much larger in number than in The Walking Dead, and much better equipped. Also, what’s at stake here is much more than just mere survival: these alien invaders have targeted the children of our planet, abducting them and fitting them with insect-like spinal harnesses, the purpose of which remains a mystery for the time being.  The only thing we know for certain about these devises is that the manual removal of them is ill-advised, as one gruesome scene later in the episode strives to make certain.

 

The previews FX televised for Falling Skies suggested that this series would be emotional, action-packed and exhilarating, but Live and Learn proved to be fairly mundane.

 

The acting was, in parts, cringe-worthy; a scene in the survivors’ camp in which protagonist Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) explains to their leader that he is going back into a dangerous, alien-infested area to rescue his son should have been intense, but instead  felt forced, in particular Wyle’s delivery of the line “They die, you just have to get close.” And this trend continued in numerous other scenes.

 

Call me cold-hearted but the final minutes of Live and Learn irked me. Mason’s youngest son rides around on his new skateboard in front of the entire group of survivors, everyone taking note and stopping to watch. Obviously the intention of this scene was to give the group a feeling of normality, even hope for their young. After what I can only imagine has been a tragic past 6 months for them, they deserved it, but the scene resonated with an unnecessary level of gooeyness, as if the writers desperately wanted us to sympathise with characters we’ve hardly been given a chance to get to know. Needless to say, my eyes remained as dry as the firmly frozen ice around my heart.

 

Falling Skies does boast some excellent special effects. Where plot is as thin as it is familiar, this opening episode makes up for it in the spectacle department. The invader’s ship, ominously hovering over the crushed city below is straight out of any alien movie, but the ‘mech’ robots, the ‘skitters’ (the nickname we have bestowed upon our crab-like aggressors), the alien crafts patrolling the skies, and of course, the nuclear-like explosion which erupts early in Live and Learn, all have me intrigued to continue watching.

 

When we first glimpse them, the Skitter aliens are shrouded in shadow, inspecting the body of a gorilla soldier killed in combat. They look like stop-motion puppets, Jason and the Argonauts-esque, and the Ray Harryhausen-first impression we get of these invaders certainly made me smile, and rewind to take a better look at them. As antagonists, the skitters are fascinating – why are they here? And why are they taking Earth’s children?

 

What can we say about the humans in Falling Skies?

 

Tom Mason, who knows a thing or two about history (and good God does he like to prove it) seems like a pretty noble guy; an intelligent, Charles Dickens-loving hero we can root for. As mentioned previously, one of his sons has been taken by the space invaders and obviously he wants to get him back. His eldest son is a scout for the survivors and has, from what we’ve gauged so far, an excellent, respectful relationship with his dad. Tom’s other son, young and hopeful that these crazy times will eventually come to an end, just wants to celebrate his birthday with some kind of normality, setting up my most loathed scene from Live and Learn. But let’s not get into that again.

 

The main focus of this episode is to introduce us to characters the writers hope we’re going to fall in love with as the story progresses. It also explores how important it is for the survivors to keep moving. With the mechs rounding up children and killing any adult unlucky enough to encounter them, things are looking bleak. It is clear that the aliens are winnings, and 6 months down the line, humanity is on the brink of collapse. But as Tom and other characters explain, there is a glimmer of hope; these beastly antagonists can be killed - it’s simply a case of getting close enough to do the damage.  I can already see some heroic kamikaze missions on the horizon.

 

Still, this begs the question as to why extraterrestrials with technology advanced enough to travel through space would allow themselves to be approached close enough to be killed? Still, the mind of the skitter is at present an enigma, and the series would be void of any moments of elation for the survivors if they simply wiped everything out.

 

Falling Skies’ pilot episode Live and Learn had its moments, and was interesting enough to keep me watching, but this opening chapter didn’t pack enough punch, especially on an emotional level, to sit in the big leagues of history’s best television pilots. But, without intentionally trying to sound like Mr Mason, if history has taught us anything it’s that you can’t properly judge a series on its first episode. Hopefully episode 2 will provide us with something more substantial.

 

 

6/10

About the author JakeCunliffe125

JakeCunliffe125

I am a first year Journalism student studying at Huddersfield University. So far so good.

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