There's something enjoyably retro about TNT's "Falling Skies," an old-school, B-grade sci-fi invasion series that's more reminiscent of the original 1980's "V" than the recently canceled ABC remake.
Part "War of the Worlds," with a dash of "The Walking Dead" and a little bit of "Jericho," "Falling Skies" (9-11 tonight; 10 p.m. subsequent Sundays) takes some time to get going but eventually the series creates a world where humanity tries to survive the Skitters, alien invaders intent on building four-legged skyscrapers that tower over major cities.
Worse yet, these multi-legged aliens enslave children by attaching a spinal-brace harness to their backs that allows the aliens to control the kids.
Fans of destruction may be disappointed that "Falling Skies" begins after the invasion, which is retold through children's crayon drawings. This series is not trying to be the 2005 film "War of the Worlds," which was directed by Steven Spielberg, who serves as an executive producer of this endeavor. "Falling Skies" is more character-driven.
The characters lack the depth of those in smarter, premium cable dramas like "The Walking Dead," but they do show some growth as the series goes on.
What "Falling Skies" does best is create a sense of the struggle for survival. Some viewers may be perturbed that the resistance doesn't seem to have a grand plan beyond trying to stay alive, but that's a welcome development. It allows "Falling Skies" to take detours and offer surprises. Seemingly important characters die, convicts from the pre-invasion era still behave like convicts post-invasion and mysteries about the aliens unspool slowly.
Noah Wyle ("ER") stars as Tom Mason, a history professor who's one of those know-it-all, repeat-it-all types who compares everything before him in the present day to some historical event. This makes Tom kind of annoying in the early going of "Falling Skies." His middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup), has been taken and harnessed by the aliens. Tom and his oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy), eventually launch a rescue mission after Dr. Michael Harris (Steven Weber) finds a way to remove the harness without children dying.
Other major characters include pediatrician Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) and Weaver (Will Patton), commander of the 2nd Massachusetts Army regiment. Additional characters weave in and out of the story, which helps give the show a legitimate sense that these are on-the-run rebels in wartime.
Mr. Wyle is well-suited to playing a bookish, reluctant warrior. Aspects of the character are similar to the role he played in the TNT "Librarian" movies, which should make this new character a comfortable fit for fans of his previous work.
A 10-hour production, "Falling Skies" boasts pretty decent effects for TV. The aliens are somewhat reminiscent of the creatures from "Aliens," albeit with more legs. Sometimes the Skitters do look like a guy in a suit but the CGI shots of them crawling on their multiple legs can be impressively creepy.
A great moment from a later episode: A skitter attacks a kid inside a school and a globe rolls across the floor. The alien picks it up, holds it in three fingers (an approximation of the logo from the 1988-90 syndicated series "War of the Worlds") and then crushes it. Sure, it's a bit heavy-handed, but what do you expect from a pulpy alien invasion melodrama?
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.