Scott D. Pierce: Alien invasion may be fun for Wyle, but not for fans
Noah Wyle is best known for his role as Dr. John Carter, who went from naive med student to seasoned physician over 15 seasons of "ER."
Carter fought disease. He struggled to save lives. He got stabbed. He went to Africa to try to save people.
On "ER," he did just about everything but fight off an invasion of aliens from outer space. Which is what Wyle is doing in his new series, "Falling Skies."
"Half the reason I decided to do this show was to look slightly heroic to my 8-year-old son," said Wyle, who believe it or not just turned 40. "And him getting to come to work and see his dad run around with a machine gun and fight aliens was worth the price of admission."
For an 8-year-old, watching his father fight aliens no doubt looks cool. And other 8-year-olds might be interested.
But "Falling Skies," which premieres Sunday at 7 and 8:56 p.m. on TNT, doesn't have a whole lot of those scenes. It's pretty dark and hopeless for the first couple of hours.
And, while there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel as the series progresses, this is going to be a tough sell to 8-year-olds, 40-year-olds and everybody else.
The series begins six months after aliens appeared in Earth's skies. Mankind thought they might be friendly; they weren't.
The aliens, whose motives aren't clear, took out Earth's defenses and left groups of survivors fighting a guerrilla war against the invaders.
Wyle stars as Tom Mason, a history professor whose wife was killed in the initial attack. One of his sons has been captured by the aliens.
Human kids are being fitted with some weird device that turns them into zombies/slaves.
Tom and his teenage son, Hal (Drew Roy), are out shooting at aliens whose technology far exceeds our own. His younger son, Matt (Maxim Knight), is just a kid. And he's determined to free his middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup).
"It's really a family story as much as it is a genre story," said executive producer Darryl Frank.
The problem is that, by trying to be both a family show and a sci-fi show, "Falling Skies" isn't particularly good at either.
It's not a terrible series, although it's laughably bad in spots. But the pace is so glacially slow that you've got to watch the first five or six hours before it hooks you at all. And there simply aren't many viewers willing to wait that long.
At least Wyle is enjoying himself.
"This was the most physically demanding work I've ever done in my life," he said. "It was incredibly intense. But it was really fun."
The aliens are cool. And there are moments when "Falling Skies" engages viewers.
But it doesn't appear nearly as much fun to watch as it might have been to act.
Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.