Greetings again from the bottom of the pit, dear friends and welcome to our new blog series. Inspired by Instagrams (not remotely narcissistic) trend #ThrowBackThursday we have set ourselves the challenge of rewatching old but awesome TV series that sadly ended before their time and checking them out with a new perspective so we can report back to y’all with our thoughts.
So what do we have for our first instalment, then?
Well, our virgin post belongs to the often overlooked Good All-American Series Dark Skies (not to be confused with the 2013 horror film of the same name.)
Close in tone to Fox’s X-Files (and thus making this the perfect time to give it a rewatch) this was a one series government /alien conspiracy show that premiered on NBC in 1996. Fun fact for you- when the creators were pitching the show they actually avoided the Fox network altogether as they knew they already had their own paranormal hit show locked in. The networks they did pitch to however were sent a mysterious book wrapped in brown paper warning that it required high level clearance in order to be opened and that reading the contents would be subject to the full penalties of the US Government. Which showcases both a gleeful sense of humour in terms of marketing and tips you off to the shows aspirations in terms of originality.
So what makes it worth a watch given twenty years have passed since it hit the small screen?
A fair few things actually we’ve discovered. And we’re not just talking about the cool AF alien parasites and their wiggly-invasive mouth tentacles.
First of all- props have to go to the costume/set design (ha, literally and figuratively). Going all Mad Men on your ass before Mad Men was even a twinkle in Matthew Weiner’s eye, Dark Skies offers up a beautifully recreated Sixties American; an expansive landscape awash with fedoras, pillbox hats and sleek black sedans. And along with the clothes come the burgeoning conflicts too- the civil rights movement, fears of Communist infiltration, the looming nuclear threat. Assassinations. Space Travel. You name it, the particularly turbulent period of 1960-1967 had it covered. And as a breeding ground for a completely unexpected extraterrestrial threat…you couldn’t ask for better.
Secondly? The show’s style. We will say this- yes, it’s true the voiceover element has been done before. Many times. Many ways. But. It actually works here. In a world where recorded conversations were the one of the few weapons available to those seeking to bring down the liars and cheats in high office, the off camera commentary has an added power to it you don’t usually find in television.
And sure, the episodic monster of the week style is nothing new. But the way the writers plot out the alien Hive’s methods of infiltrating the human race with each episode highlighting a different (and insidious) plan means that the narrative has a great sense of pacing. It’s measured. Well thought out and stylish much like its look- more akin to something like Carnivale than it’s thematic predecessors like Fringe or Invasion.
And then there’s JT Walsh. You might know him as That Guy, the one with the face you know from somewhere but can’t quite place. If it helps you may well be thinking of A Few Good Men. Pleasantville. Backdraft or Good Morning, Vietnam? Or the million other things he showed up in. Anyway, the point is Eric Close and Megan Ward as the main characters and the heralds of all that is good and brave are fab. We salute them and their fine detailed Cadillac too. But Walsh as Captain Frank Bach, the morally flexible head of Majestic 12, the hard-faced supposedly intractable military man who inexplicably has his soft spots when it comes to his daughter or John Loengard is a force majeur in terms of acting. Seriously, you can’t take your eyes off him whenever he is on screen and here he showcases why he was so in demand, lending the show a gravitas it might not have had with another actor in the role (And in this vein, check out episode 12: The Enemy Within for the blink or you’ll miss it moment between Frank and John’s father. You’ll see exactly what we mean.) His premature death in 1998 was without doubt a true loss to the silver screen. You can however appreciate him here, in all his glory with great abandon. And you should.
Convinced yet? No? Well how about when we tell you the series contains real threat to its characters? We’re not going to give anything away obv just in case you find yourselves compelled to give Dark Skies a watch/rewatch but in a lot of television series these days (and back in the nineties) one of their main flaws is an aversion to hurting or killing off the characters they have created (George RR Martin/GOT aside of course.) Dark Skies doesn’t have this particular problem. And in fact with each episode you really can feel the palpable sense of hazard the characters are facing which is more than a little refreshing. Especially when you realise how neatly the major historical events of Sixties American are woven into the storyline. It would have been so easy to just shoehorn in Martin Luthor King’s speech, wouldn’t it? The Beatles televised gig in New York. JFK’s assassination. To have them simply playing on a tv screen in the background. But to thread these occurrences into a whole new Alternative Universe and to raise questions over whether they were related to an alien invasion is more than just smart. It’s compelling. And makes for great television.
Well, that’s it. That’s our pitch done and dusted as to why we enjoyed rewatching Brent V Friedman and Bryce Zabel’s Dark Skies so much and why you should do the same. It’s beautiful. Smart. Inventive and perfectly paced. But don’t take just take our word for it…
And don’t forget to Join us again soon for our next foray into the world of forgotten series and some more tips on what’s worth taking a trip back in time for.
It’s only one small step after all.