After an uneven but popular-by-cable-standards first season, “Falling Skies” returns, looking bigger and a bit better. With its focus on survivors of an alien invasion forging their own unified (and sometimes quarrelsome) resistance, the show essentially amounts to a dumber version of “The Walking Dead,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unexpectedly, with series like “Terra Nova” and “The River” winding toward extinction, this simple, patriotic series is also the most clearly successful of the recent dramas to which Steven Spielberg has lent his name, and the most unabashed hit for its network, TNT.
Then again, perhaps that’s because “Skies” possesses a stronger thematic connection to the director’s filmography than do his other recent TV forays, which also included “Smash.” As constructed, the mix of elements feels as if “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” mated with “War of the Worlds” and birthed a healthy if not especially ambitious hybrid.
A post-apocalyptic tale testing the grit of the human spirit, the new season again finds a ragtag mix of Massachusetts civilians and soldiers fighting to survive, engaging in noble sacrifices and staring down impossible odds. It also introduces an element of paranoia, since the hale fellow we’ve come to trust, Tom (a perfectly calibrated Noah Wyle), went aboard the alien mother ship and (hardly a spoiler) lived to tell the tale, causing some companions to wonder whether he’s being manipulated by the invaders.
The same applies to Tom’s son Ben (Connor Jessup), who was turned into a working drone by the aliens, but since his escape has slain them with gusto, despite those weird spikes protruding from his back.
On the plus side, everything about “Falling Skies” feels a little more elaborate this year, with better effects and more action — a happy by-product of having sailed through its maiden season with strong ratings.
After four episodes, the show dangles more questions than it answers, but the hours go down easy, even if some of the many interpersonal dynamics — an inevitable focus given TV’s budgetary constraints — still feel a trifle clunky. At its core, the show examines how a random group of people interact when all hell’s broken loose, from their crusty commander (Will Patton) to the surly Pope (Colin Cunningham) to the beautiful doctor (Moon Bloodgood) with whom Tom exchanges longing glances.
While the aftermath of existential disaster remains a popular framework — witness the number of series dabbling in some variation of it — it’s not always so easy to execute. And while this isn’t “The Walking Dead,” based on past performance and this year’s modest improvements, the show is still likely to help give TNT a solid pulse during the summer. In short, those who got on board last year have enough reason to continue flying these not-so-friendly “Skies.”