Mixing a strain of Tea Party nostalgia with a whole library of alien-invasion fiction, the Steven Spielberg-produced “Falling Skies” draws from such a multitude of sources it’s difficult to know where to begin. Taken on its own terms, this eight-part series — which begins in the middle, months after aliens have invaded Earth, thus turning a ragtag New England band into modern colonial resistance — has its moments action-wise, but the soapier elements mostly fall flat. Think of it as “War of the Worlds: The Series,” tapping into apprehensions about things that go “Zap” in the night sky.
Fortunately, this DreamWorks presentation has Noah Wyle as Tom, a genial Everyman (he cites grading papers in his pre-invasion life) who has tapped into a wellspring of can-do American spirit to protect his kids and fight off this unexplained threat.
Tom is seeking a missing son, abducted by the invaders for purposes unknown, while his older boy Hal (Drew Roy) is one of the teenagers fighting, out of necessity, alongside the adults. Of course, he also has some traditional teen problems, like girl trouble, which is complicated when you’re trying to avoid being turned into a mindless thrall by slavering extraterrestrials.
Conceived by Spielberg and Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”) and produced with Graham Yost (“Justified”), “Skies” sets up one mildly interesting wrinkle: A tension in what’s been dubbed the “2nd Massachusetts” between the civilians and military focused on keeping them alive, who — faced with limited provisions — dismissively refer to the non-fighters as “eaters.” The main character representing the soldiers, alas, is played so broadly by a snarling Will Patton he occasionally seems to be impersonating Yosemite Sam.
Widowed in the initial attack, Tom also engages in playful banter with a pediatrician (“Terminator: Salvation’s” lovely Moon Bloodgood) in a similar predicament, though in the world of “Falling Skies,” sex is pretty much limited to touching fingertips. “You’re back from work early,” she quips when he saunters in, fresh from battle.
“Falling Skies” is almost painfully old-fashioned — filled with heroism, last-minute rescues and regular expressions of religious faith, reminding us that the truly devout are blessed with the inner peace to accommodate all manner of bad news, including an alien attack blasting the crap out of their home planet. There’s none of the subtlety of “Battlestar Galactica,” say, in paralleling current reality. This hews closer to “Independence Day,” with a touch of “Red Dawn.”
As for the aliens, they, too, are a visual mish-mash, consisting of steel marauders and bug-like fleshy occupants, their motivations irrelevant.
The two-hour premiere happens to land at the same time a similarly themed movie under the Spielberg banner, “Super 8,” hits theaters. Whether that serves as competition or promotion is anybody’s guess.
TNT is certainly offering no shortage of the latter, having shrewdly made calculated use of the NBA playoffs to place “Falling Skies” on a male audience’s radar. Sampling, though, is only half the battle, in a series whose simple charms fitfully deliver incentive to keep watching the “Skies.”