Sunday Night TV Apocalypse

Many Americans begin their Sundays with a visit to the church of their choice and end them with apocalyptic visions — watching TV characters struggle with catastrophic scenarios that have put the human race on the brink of extinction.

Sunday night is the prime TV viewing period in the Webner household and across America.  Lately, though, it seems like every show has an apocalyptic theme.  On Falling Skies, the Earth has been invaded by multiple alien species who are hoping to wipe us off the face of the planet.  On The Last Ship, a weaponized virus has swept across the globe, killing and infecting 80 percent of humans, toppling governments, and leaving only one American ship and one scientist as humanity’s last, best hope for a cure.  And on The Leftovers, two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously vanished, leaving the remaining population to wonder why, struggle with the aftermath, and witness a slow breakdown of the entire social order.  (I recognize there are other apocalyptic TV shows out there, but one couple can only endure so much televised disaster.)

Why are these shows so popular?  For one, Americans like to see people in peril, and have enjoyed it since The Perils of Pauline.  Apocalyptic shows just allow the peril to occur on a much grander scale.  Too, the broad plot lines give ample room for action and adventure, heroism and cowardice, charismatic leaders, people finding inner strength, romance amidst the carnage, and acts of sacrifice and betrayal, and therefore can appeal to just about everyone.  If you like battles, you can watch the freedom fighters on Falling Skies gun down “skitterers” or the Navy personnel on The Last Ship fight al-Qaeda terrorists and rogue Russians.  And occasionally bigger picture questions can be addressed, too.  What is the role of hope in life?  How would ordinary people react to Armageddon?  What role, if any, would religion play when people are dealing with the end of life as we know it?

It’s all very interesting, and it makes for a good night of TV viewing.  And, having immersed ourselves in catastrophe on Sunday night, we awaken on Monday morning refreshed and well positioned to face another week of work.

That Alien Feeling, On Falling Skies

This year’s episodes on Falling Skies — the TNT series about a hardy band of people trying to fight back after an invasion of Earth — have been interesting and somewhat, well, alien.

Last year introduced us to the skitters and their fish-faced masters who had conquered parts of the world and enslaved children through use of a devilish harness device, as well as the folks of the Second Massachusetts militia who were resisting them.  We met the men and boys of the Mason clan, the lantern-jawed, perpetually gruff Captain Weaver, the ultra-sensitive Dr. Glass, and the fabulous, rebellious, truth-telling Pope.  They tried to figure out how to battle the aliens and develop weapons that could puncture alien armor — but mostly they just tried to survive and get along.

This year the story line has taken a different turn, one that focuses more on the aliens.  It turns out that not all of the skitters are happy with their towering overlords and apparently want to join the humans in defying the conquerors.  What’s more, some of the captured children seem to like the harness and being linked closely with other humans and skitters.  The middle Mason son, who had been harnessed and still is physically and mentally affected by the experience, has strong feelings of anger at the aliens, but also has some lingering connection with them.  In the meantime, the Second Mass has learned that some form of American government has been established down south and has decided to try to find it.

The series still has the shoot ’em up scenes, the inevitable romances between characters, and the other hoary plot devices that have been part of TV shows since Uncle Miltie ruled the airwaves, but I applaud Falling Skies for trying to do something more and plow new ground with the alien-on-alien rebellion plot line.  It’s a show worth watching.

The Return Of Falling Skies

You can argue about what period was the Golden Age of Television — depending upon your age, you might argue that just about any decade since the 1950s should take that honor — but one undeniably great thing about modern TV is that new shows begin at all times of the year.  It’s not like the old days, when we were wedded to fall premiere week and the summer was a vast wasteland of reruns.

Tonight Falling Skies begins its second season.  The timing is great because Game of Thrones is over for the year and we need something to watch during the 9 p.m. Sunday time slot.  Falling Skies isn’t in the same ballpark as Game of Thrones (what is?) but last year it was an entertaining ride.

For those who didn’t catch the show last year, aliens have invaded and a small band of humans is desperately fighting back.  They are led by uber-heroic Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), the gruff Captain Weaver, who is wrestling with some serious inner demons, and outlaw John Pope — my favorite character, well played by Colin Cunningham — who isn’t above theft and other criminal acts, is a surprisingly good cook, and also is a deft hand at killing the aliens.  Tom Mason has an older son who is helping to fight the alien invaders, a middle son who was “harnessed” by the aliens and is still dealing with that experience, and a young son to whom Tom is trying to give a somewhat normal childhood, which isn’t easy under the circumstances.  Tom, who lost his wife in the invasion, also is dealing with a budding romance with Dr. Glass.

Last season ended with Tom deciding to go with the aliens into their ship (implausibly, in my view, yet heroically, because that’s just the way Tom is).  We’ll see if he comes out with a harness of his own, and we’ll also be watching for Pope’s latest brainstorm and his inevitable confrontations with Captain Weaver and other authority figures.  It’s time to kick some alien butt!

Falling Skies

With the end of the excellent first season of Game of Thrones, Kish and I have been looking for a new TV series to follow.  Our rules for selection among the many different “summer shows” were simple:  no medical examiner or police shows, no reality shows, and no silly shows about wacky lawyers who win a trial a week through their courtroom stunts.

We settled on TNT’s Falling Skies almost by default, and it is intriguing enough to keep watching.  The show is the story of a hardy band of human resistance fighters in Massachusetts.  They are dealing with the aftermath of a devastating alien invasion which saw the regular armed forces wiped out and countless humans massacred.  The aliens, nicknamed “skitters,” also have enslaved many children through the use of a harness device that attaches to the spinal cord and allows the aliens to communicate with them.  The skitters now are trying to hunt down the remaining humans with the help of mobile fighting devices called “mechs,” while the humans try to regroup in irregular groups of fighters and civilians and figure out how to fight back.

Noah Wyle has the lead as Tom Mason, a former military history professor who is the second-in-command of the Second Mass resistance fighters.  Mason’s wife has been killed, his oldest son also is a fighter, his youngest son is trying to have a normal childhood amidst the devastation, and his middle son, Ben, is one of the harnessed children.  The Second Mass is led by grizzled Captain Weaver, played by Will Patton, and also features kind pediatrician Anne Glass, played by Moon Bloodgood, a jack-of-all-trades schoolteacher, a cowardly surgeon, and and assortment of rugged fighters and children who are having to grow up too quickly.

Although some of developments have been predictable, the show has some surprises.  Our favorite character so far is John Pope, who is very well played by Colin Cunningham.  Pope is the bearded, long-haired, street smart but unscrupulous captured leader of a band of renegades who has figured out a lot about the skitters — including how to kill them — and can cook a darned good meal besides.  Another interesting character is Lourdes, played by Seychelle Gabriel.  Lourdes is unapologetic about her religious faith, even after the invasion has caused many survivors to give up on religion.  It is unusual to see such a frank and positive portrayal of a religious person on network TV.

We’ll keep watching.