'Falling Skies' mixes politics with its skitters

Noah Wyle and Moon Bloodgood are among those in the resistance to save America and make it a more perfect union.
Noah Wyle and Moon Bloodgood are among those in the resistance to save America and make it a more perfect union.
Posted: June 07, 2013

* FALLING SKIES. 9 p.m. Sunday, TNT.

IT'S BEEN only a few days since Philadelphia was apparently blown off the map by a self-styled "patriot" in the season finale of "Revolution," but TV is not done remaking the United States.

TNT's "Falling Skies" returns for its third season Sunday, and though the enemies of the state may be very different - alien "skitters" instead of electricity-zapping conspirators - both shows deal with alternate realities in which embattled Americans might just get to create a more perfect union.

Or at least find a way back to the one we're living in now.

And this, I'd argue, even more than less money for special effects, is what makes a disaster TV series different from a disaster movie. (Yes, I'm lumping alien invasions, 15-year blackouts and zombie apocalypses in with comets hurtling toward Earth and whatever that was that was happening in the movie "2012.")

In a disaster movie, Morgan Freeman or Bill Pullman might be president, but politics are usually put on hold for a couple of hours while everything around us gets blown up real good. With luck, someone's faithful dog survives, along with enough of the population to make a go of it in a changed world.

In a disaster TV series, the world's changing over a long enough period that issues of government can't be pushed off forever. If only because it's hard for viewers to identify with roving bands of anarchists, groups tend to coalesce around leaders, some of whom, like the Governor (David Morrissey) on "The Walking Dead," turn out to be not the best choices.

"Falling Skies" has had this as part of its DNA from the beginning, thanks to Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), the widowed history professor who in Season 1 became second-in-command of a ragtag band of resisters who called themselves the 2nd Massachusetts Militia. Tom, who likes to draw lessons from our country's beginnings, would probably have had a ball on "Revolution."

After Season 2 found the 2nd Mass fighting not only skitters but differing views of how the resistance should be organized, the third season, which begins seven months after last year's finale, has Tom in a considerably more elevated position.

Like most leaders in crisis, he's not going to get a honeymoon period. New problems are piling up, and even Anne (Moon Bloodgood), who's about to make him a father for the fourth time, isn't going to be much help.

It's hard enough keeping track of the aliens in "Falling Skies," but the first few episodes introduce so many new challenges and mysteries it makes my head hurt thinking about them.

Which is why I'm determined to stay focused on the human drama, the one in which people fighting to stay alive also try to figure out a way to shape a future they may never see.

'The Killing,' Week 2

My hope for AMC's "The Killing" this season was that it would find a way to set itself apart from all those other shows about cops tracking serial killers.

There's a promising speech early in Sunday's episode that suggests that showrunner Veena Sud - whose first name was mangled by a particularly aggressive spell-check program in last week's review - is also tired of the serial-killer cliches: the complicated, colorful psychopaths and the profilers who claim to understand them.

Only time will tell if that promise is kept, but it's off to a good start.

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Twitter: @elgray

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