Friday, July 27, 2012

Falling Skies, I'm breaking up with you.

(Fair warning, some spoilers may be ahead)

Normally, if I don’t like a TV show, I just quietly stop watching it and that’s that. Every now and then, though, a show comes along that simultaneously draws me in and pisses me off, and when the latter finally wins and I sever my allegiance to the characters in whom I’d become invested, it warrants a rant. And ranting is fun and cathartic sometimes, so I thought, hell, why not?

Falling Skies, I’m breaking up with you. It’s over. I’m done. We had a good run, you and me, and you started out with so much potential. So, so much potential. Flawed, sympathetic people. Little glimmers of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. Progressively more enigmatic—and on occasion, intriguingly sympathetic—invaders about whom I was insanely curious.

But with time, my sympathy toward the characters has waned in favor of at best, hoping they find a cave to hide in but really not caring if they do, or at worst, hoping they step on a long-discarded rake, break their own nose in the process, get tetanus from the rusty prongs, and eventually die alone in some grotesque, agonizing fashion, but preferably in flashback or something so I don’t have to endure them for another minute. My curiosity about the aliens has waned in favor of wishing they would just win already. Or step on a rake and die. I can get behind that too.

As the thin wires suspending my disbelief snapped one by one, I started getting less annoyed with the aliens and the characters, and more annoyed with the people behind the show who succeeded in getting me invested in the story but then dropped the ball and made me consider watching The Walking Dead instead. If you know how much I hate, loathe, and despise all things zombies, that says something. If you don’t, think of me as a vegan who’s so put off by the salad you’ve made me, I’m considering having a steak instead.

One thing that’s been hammered into my head as a professional storyteller is to never insult the viewer/reader/listener’s intelligence. Color yourselves guilty, my friends, because this show has made me facepalm like few shows have ever made me facepalm. And I’ve watched bits and pieces of Jersey Shore.  With that in mind, I think every writer, director, producer, and whatever other –er that is involved in the making of a TV show like this should be required to take a comprehensive course in ballistics and ordnance before slathering their stupid all over a show that might one day be broadcast onto my television. I paid good money for that thing, and I weep every time it’s used to show me things so painfully stupid and unrealistic.

Have any of you, the staff behind Falling Skies, ever actually fired a rocket launcher? They’re a bitch to shoot. And they take, you know, practice and stuff. Hitting a moving target, especially one that’s above you and moving at a high rate of speed when you’ve only got one round to your name, is extremely difficult. I might have been able to swallow Tom firing at and hitting one of the legs of the big alien base. Hitting one of the fliers that was coming in to dock? Hitting it with such flawless timing that it didn’t just explode in midair, it continued on its current trajectory, flew straight into the base (not “into it” like it crashed into the side, but into the slot where it was supposed to land), blew up, and took out a chunk of the scrap metal building of doom? Come on.

For that matter, have any of you ever fired a gun? They, too, take practice. Especially to hit moving targets. Especially to hit moving targets when you’re also a moving target and are scared shitless. Especially to hit moving targets when you’re also a moving target and are scared shitless and are firing on full goddamned automatic.

Speaking of which, you don’t spray and pray when ammo is scarce. A fully automatic weapon can go through fifty rounds in the time it takes you to read this sentence. A hundred if you’re a slow reader. When you have to conserve every bullet you get your paws on, you switch that fucker to semi auto, and you make every shot count. Especially when firing full auto is not nearly as easy as you people in Hollywood seem to think it is, and each and every character would have to have practiced using thousands of rounds to be able to shoot that well. Waste not, want not, yo.

You also don’t use an entire brick of C4 when it’s all you have and when you’re planning on detonating it while you’re like thirty feet away. Though I suppose if you’re detonating C4 from thirty feet away, there’s no point in quibbling over how much you use, because once you set it off, you won’t be alive to use whatever you decide to conserve. Would you people watch Burn Notice once in a goddamned while or something?  

And for the love of all that’s good and unholy, was I the only one screaming at my television whenever there was discussion of bringing down the aliens’ big scrap metal structure thingy looming over Boston?  When everyone was biting their nails over how they’d be able to complete the assault as planned now that the Third and Fourth Massachusetts were MIA?  Because when you’re missing the rest of your force, how in the world are you going to get close enough to put an explosive on each of the structure’s four legs? Clearly, the solution is to divide and conquer: split our shrinking band of survivors into smaller groups, assign them each a leg, and make sure the explosives go off at the same time.

Really, guys? Seriously? Look, I’m no physics expert, but that structure looked awfully top heavy to me. Kinda thinking you could do some pretty substantial damage – and maybe have enough manpower to get in and out alive – by blowing up two, even one, of the legs instead of all four.  I mean, the aliens are totally giving you one here. They’ve set the game on easy by erecting a giant, top-heavy structure out of motherfucking scrap metal, and you’re still insisting on blowing up all four legs?

But it's not just tactical and weapon-related stuff that makes me put a forehead-shaped indentation on my coffee table. Would someone please show me to the rule that says every baby born in a post-apocalyptic setting must be breech? Seriously. It’s become such a cliché, as soon as I realized a character was pregnant, I was like “breeeeeeeech, guaranteeeeeeed.” And lo and behold. Seriously? But then you guys took it a step further. Not only was the baby conveniently and precariously ass-down, there just happened to be someone in the group – someone who happened into the room – who’d helped with an external version when his own daughter was breech. While I was watching that episode, I was making little flowers with duct tape and chopsticks, and I swear I almost jammed chopsticks into my own eyes just to make it stop.

Speaking of jamming things into body parts to make it stop… I’m cool with aliens having weaknesses. Making them invincible is kind of lame. The fact that the Skitters are vulnerable to gunfire makes me happy, because while it doesn’t quite level the playing field, it’s enough to make the conflict a bit less one-sided. I can deal with that. Or I could until it turned out their Achilles heel is having something jammed into their mouth/nostril/eye socket/AC power outlet/whatever it was in their face, which promptly gives them a concussion, knocks them out, and if done hard enough or with something sharp, kills them. Sigh. Really?

And while we’re on the subject of Skitters… are they incapable of counting? I know they can keep track of their little broods of harnessed children, and if one goes missing, they kill the rest. Yet when Hal makes his ballsy entrance so he can rescue his brother and the other kids, pretending to be one of them, the Skitter doesn’t—not when it’s leading them into the room to sleep for the night, not when it’s settling over them like a hen over its eggs (props for that part, though – it was flawlessly creepy)—notice that it now has seven in its brood instead of six.

Moving right along. Under stressful circumstances, people do stupid shit. We get it. But I’m starting to wonder how this particular band of misfits survived the initial invasion long enough do the stupid shit they’re doing now when that kind of stupid shit has the potential to make them all very, very dead even when they don’t have aliens breathing down their necks.

If I can sum up any part of a plot with the words “but then by sheer coincidence” or “but he just happened to…”, then color me annoyed. Coincidence is lazy storytelling. Drink some coffee and try again. I mean, how nice that Weaver decided to go batshit crazy and have a drunken breakdown, and then conveniently finds his wife’s glasses—while mechs are closing in on them—and suddenly realizes she must still be alive, and therefore he’s got his mojo back and stops being a dumbass right when his dumbassery would have gotten both him and Tom killed. Convenient indeed.

Sort of like when Ricky goes running back to the aliens because he misses them. I’m actually good with that part because I like the creepy mind control morphing-into-aliens stuff they’re doing with the Skitters, harnesses, etc. I like that bit. What I don’t like is when Ricky goes prancing off to rejoin the aliens, but then promptly tells the aliens what the humans are doing, and after the aliens—who now have the information they needed—ditch him, Tom just happens to find him just in time to learn that the aliens now know what the fuck is going on? That makes me want to jam icepicks into my ears.

Further, the Boston area is freaking huge. Especially when you add in a lot of the surrounding, non-urban areas. Plus, if you've ever tried to find someone in a forest -- am I the only kid left who played in the woods as a kid and got lost once in a while? -- you know it's REALLY FUCKING HARD. Reduce the population in this massive, partially forested environment to a few hundred, and the odds of happening across someone, particularly someone you are specifically looking for in between trying not to get yourself killed, are so astronomically slim, that when Hal just happened to see his brother with some other harnessed children, I rolled my eyes so hard I actually saw my own brain.

What finally did me in was when Tom went on board the alien spacecraft. There was so much WTF from that moment forward, I can’t even fit it all into my skull.

I could go on, but I won’t. In short, your technical shit is all kinds of jacked up. Your people are doing stupid crap. Things are conveniently happening for the sole purpose of increasing tension and drama, but they’re succeeding only in making the characters look stupid and the story less believable. In the world of fiction, particularly in the world of romance, there’s a term for characters who behave the way these characters do. It’s TSTL.  Too stupid to live.  Generally not a term that should be assigned to humanity’s last hope and the rugged band of people who managed to survive a full-scale alien invasion, you know?

So I’m done with you, Falling Skies.

And when the Mayans come back from Saturn to do battle with the Freemasons in December, I seriously hope no one involved in the production of this show is part of my mismatched little band of stubborn survivors. If you are, don’t expect me to share my Twinkies with you.

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