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'Falling Skies' isn't afraid to be sci-fi

Published June 12, 2013 9:45 am

Television • Much-improved TNT series follows humans-vs-aliens battle.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Falling Skies" isn't boldly going where no one has gone before. There have been lots of other TV shows and movies about aliens invading Earth.

But this TNT drama, which returns Sunday for its third season, is doing something very few other TV shows have the courage to do. It's a sci-fi show that is unabashedly, unapologetically science-fictiony.

That may not sound groundbreaking, but a lot of shows — including most of what we see on the Syfy Channel — are so afraid of scaring away people who don't identify as sci-fi fans that they turn into something homogenized and bland.

The irony is that by refusing to fear its own science-fiction elements, the show is much more appealing to both sci-fi fans and nonfans.

"Our rule of thumb — and it's a very strong rule — is that the science fiction has to support the human drama. And not the other way around," said executive producer Remi Aubuchon. "We don't want to work up toward some cool, science-fiction thing that 10 die-hard fans of the physics of space travel are going to dig, but the rest of the audience is going to go, 'Huh?' "

Aubuchon, who joined the series as the showrunner in Season 2, has not been afraid to expand the original concept. When "Falling Skies" premiered two years ago, this tale of human survivors fighting alien invaders was dark, hopeless and glacially slow-paced.

It picked up in Season 2 and became one of the better shows in the genre. And some really big things are going on as Season 3 begins:

Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is now the president of the remaining humans in Charleston, S.C., leading the resistance against the Espheni — the evil aliens.

The humans now have alien allies — the Volm, who have fought the Espheni on many worlds. But not all the humans trust the Volm, and it's not entirely clear what the Volm are up to.

Tom's girlfriend, Anne (Moon Bloodgood), is about to give birth to their child. But there's something odd about the new baby.

There are cool scenes with humans fighting aliens. There are mysteries. There are cliffhangers.

But at its center is a story of a guy fighting not just to save humans but to preserve humanity.

"I always felt that if we were going to continue as a series, we were going to have to get not only deeper into the characters, but also deeper into the mythology itself," Aubuchon said. "And from that point on, we began to really map out seriously where we were going to be at the end of the series and what was the big, overall picture that we were living with.

"The end result is you come up with a deeper, more rounded experience in watching an episode of 'Falling Skies' than you did in the first season because we've gotten to know the characters better, we've gotten to know the enemy better and we've gotten to know the world better."

But the show is still fun to watch. It looks cool. It's exciting.

"Look, we've got aliens on our show," Aubuchon said. "And we're under a huge invasion. So science fiction has to be part of our show. But we never want it to overshadow the human drama that's taking place.

"Yes, many big things are happening. Aliens battling each other. A new set of allies coming to help us and providing new technology. But at the core of the story this season is Tom Mason trying to balance his family and his friends with the big, giant task of trying to, if not save the world, at least save this corner of the world."

spierce@sltrib.com

"Falling Skies"

The first new episode of Season 3 airs Sunday, June 9, at 7 and 9 p.m. on TNT; the second new episode follows at 8 and 10 p.m.