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Dark Skies

The truth is out there somewhere, as we all know, and the truth as uncovered by "Dark Skies" is that it's possible to clone "The X-Files" without having to pay Chris Carter a finder's fee.

Cast: Eric Close, Megan Ward, J.T. Walsh, Robin Gammell, Lee Garlington, Paul Gleason, Frances Guinan, John M. Jackson, Conor O'Farrell, J.D. Spradlin.

The truth is out there somewhere, as we all know, and the truth as uncovered by “Dark Skies” is that it’s possible to clone “The X-Files” without having to pay Chris Carter a finder’s fee.

Shamelessly derivative of both “X-Files” and the old ’60s sci-fi series “The Invaders,” “Dark Skies” is one of a handful of network hours this fall that have repackaged the paranormal paranoia formula in hopes of cashing in on the “Files”/”Independence Day” mania sweeping the land like a mutating virus. At least in the case of “Skies,” the concept ripoff is carried off with reasonable care and panache by exec producers Bryce Zabel and Joseph Stern and their crew.

But how’s this for originality: In the two-hour “Skies” premiere, a couple of young, idealistic government workers named John Loengard and Kimberly Sayers (Eric Close of “Sisters” and Megan Ward of “Party of Five”) uncover a sinister secret being kept under wraps by the political establishment in the early ’60s. Seems the big bad bureaucrats are concealing proof of get this alien invasions and visitations.

So our heroes have to get out of D.C. but quick, chased by sinister agents and slimy, invasive extraterrestrials who have this annoying habit of taking up residence in the bodies of Earthlings (shades of “The Thing”).

Just as an aside, why is it that the aliens in these things always resemble people who haven’t eaten or bothered to get out of bed in five years? The monster mold seems to mean long, impossibly atrophied arms, exposed ribcages, basketball-shaped, hairless heads, translucent bodies and a few gnarly tentacles. Is everyone in outer space supposedly anorexic and jaundiced, like so many demonically possessed Barbies? It’s high time we introduced these creatures to treadmills and starches.

Anyway, Loengard noses around into enough people’s UFO business to get recruited into the inner circle by the intense Col. Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh). But Loengard will have none of it, stealing evidence to show President Kennedy (!) and spread word of “the truth.” So he and Sayers hit the road, searching for their own version of the One-armed Man (the single-tentacled alien, perhaps?)

The gambit in “Dark Skies” is that all of U.S. history has been impacted by UFO visitations and alien contact, including (in the pilot) the Francis Gary Powers U-2 spy plane incident. Call it close encounters of the television kind.

Joe Rayner’s visual-effects team supplies some solid cinema-quality moments, and Tobe Hooper (“Poltergeist”) keeps the action moving along smoothly from the script by Zabel and Brent V. Friedman. But the truth is that on Saturday night, everyone this show hopes to attract is out there on the town and not inside watching TV.

Despite its watchability, “Dark Skies” is ultimately too much “X,” not enough “Why?”

Popular on Variety

Dark Skies

NBC, Sat. Sept. 21, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in and around Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., by Bryce Zabel Prods. Inc. in association with Columbia Pictures Television. Executive producers, Bryce Zabel and Joseph Stern; co-executive producer, Brent V. Friedman; producer , Bruce Kerner; co-producer, Bernie Laramie; director, Tobe Hooper; writers, Bryce Zabel and Brent V. Friedman.

Crew: Director of photography, Bill Butler; production designer, Curtis A. Schnell; set decorator, Christa Schneider; editor , Andrew Cohen; music, Michael Hoenig; sound, Erin Hoien and William Dodson; visual effects supervisor, Joe Rayner. 2 HOURS.

Cast: Cast: Eric Close, Megan Ward, J.T. Walsh, Robin Gammell, Lee Garlington, Paul Gleason, Frances Guinan, John M. Jackson, Conor O'Farrell, J.D. Spradlin.

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