Notice I use the words “we” and “us.” Because what fun is a doomsday if you’re not one of the scrappy, well-armed survivors? That’s the true narcissism at work in almost all space-invader, mass-epidemic, zombie-infected, climatological hunger games: Me and mine, we get through, but just barely. You and yours? Not so much.
Which brings us to yet another dystopian vision with Steven Spielberg’s brand name affixed to it (as executive producer), this time as a cheap-looking but occasionally intriguing sci-fi social study called “Falling Skies,” which premieres Sunday night on TNT.
Aliens have stood in for a lot of metaphorical worry stones over the last century — they’ve represented emigration and immigration concerns, fascism fears, the Red Menace and deadly pandemic.
Now it seems that extraterrestrial hostility triggers in the American character a fierce defense of family, currently on display in “Falling Skies” but also a strong theme in the Spielberg-influenced “Super 8” down at the multiplex. As with Spielberg’s memorable “War of the Worlds” remake in 2005, these stories are no longer about uniting the broader family of man against a common enemy. They’re about the more self-interested impulse to protect one’s family unit.
Though well-armed and edgy, “Falling Skies” is subliminally preoccupied with helicopter parenting and the idea that my child is more gifted than yours, and thus more worthy of salvation. A band of freedom fighters survives on wits and what appears to be an ample supply of Dinty Moore stew, but it feels like they’re all still using the same tactics honed in seeking to improve their kids’ test scores and chances at the now-obliterated Ivy League.
As seen in “Independence Day,” “District 9” and both the old and new versions of “V,” aliens arrive and squat their monstrous motherships over only those cities large enough to have major league sports franchises. In “Falling Skies,” this has meant curtains for Boston, where a scant number of survivors have formed units of militias-on-the-go, operating without radio contact or an apparent central command. It’s the tea party’s wildest dream come true.
As part of the testy 2nd Mass unit, Noah Wyle is Tom Mason, the widowed father of three sons. He used to be a college history professor (read: soft, ivory tower, liberal). Now, six months after the alien takeover, he’s a work in progress as a machine-gun toting soldier (read: “Red Dawn,” true patriot, alpha dad).
The aliens, nicknamed “Skitters” by the human freedom fighters, dish out destruction and death in the usual H.G. Wells manner of no-manners, all but ending the cushy lifestyle the Americans once knew. Remorse is an essential thread in the mood of “Falling Skies” — a moralizing tone of all space-invasion epics now; enjoy today and what you have, for tomorrow it could all belong to reptiles from space.