Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

We've had a lot of unscrupulous aliens coming to our planet on television lately, but Falling Skies isn't just another mystery-alien show along the lines of V or The Event. Instead, Steven Spielberg's new show is a whole different phenomenon.

We interviewed showrunner Mark Verheiden and actors Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy and Maxim Knight about what to expect from Falling Skies, which debuts this Sunday on TNT. And they told us how Falling Skies is different than your average alien invasion show.

Spoilers ahead!

The situation in Falling Skies is even more hopeless than in other shows.
When Falling Skies begins, it's been six whole months since the aliens attacked, and the human race is all but defeated. "To me, what was interesting was starting six months after the initial shock and awe of the alien invasion," says Verheiden. "We've been hanging by our fingernails. Is that our life now?"

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

In fact, our main character Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) often seems to be the only person who believes that the humans can win against the aliens, says Verheiden. Other people think that Tom is kidding himself, but Verheiden says:

I don't think he's delusional, so much as a man who, since he has three kids, has to hang on to the idea that somehow we're going to be able to get our planet back. We're going to find a way to get these guys off our planet.

And the Resistance, of which Tom is a member, starts out "outgunned," but they start learning about the aliens over the course of the first season, says Verheiden. Speaking of which...

These aliens are frakking creepy

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

I asked Verheiden if some of the scenes involving the aliens were intended to be as disturbing and squicky as they came across, and he said it's definitely intentional. There's one scene in a hospital, in particular, that will make your skin crawl. "It's creepy, and that was a part of the design of the show, as created by Spielberg and [Saving Private Ryan writer] Bob Rodat," says Verheiden.

The "Skitters" are actually puppets, says actor Maxim Knight, who plays Tom Mason's youngest son Matt. But even when you know they're puppets, when they start moving, "it looks so life-like and you get the feeling they're going to jump out and grab you."

The aliens' disturbing habits are intended to "touch a core of human phobia," particularly around children, says Verheiden. Without giving too much away, the aliens seem to have very special plans for our kids. As Verheiden says: "You see movies where entire armies are wiped out... but when they come for our kids..."

The family dynamics are really complicated and intense

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

The Mason family goes through a lot in the first season of Falling Skies, and throughout it all, Tom Mason is trying to protect his kids. And he faces a dilemma: Does he let them have a childhood, as much as possible, or does he teach them to fight and defend themselves from early on? "I really want to go out and fight," says Knight of his character Matt. "But my dad wants to keep me protected."

One of the big conflicts early on comes from the fact that Tom's second son, Ben, has been taken prisoner by the aliens. And even as the Masons are trying to get Ben back, we find out that Ben didn't get along with the oldest son, Hal, at all. Drew Roy, who plays Hal, says that was a really great thing to see in the script, and it dovetailed with his own ideas about these characters:

You know how siblings are. They'll bicker all day long and pick on each other... the aliens have come into my life, Hal's life, and taken Ben away from me, and [it's like] I have permission to pick on him and nobody else.

So Hal swears an oath that he's going to get his brother back, no matter what.

Part of the conflict between Hal and Ben comes from the fact that Ben takes after their father, Tom — who's more of an intellectual who thinks things through. Hal, meanwhile, leads with his heart and is more impulsive. Meanwhile, the show starts with Hal and his dad not seeing eye to eye, but they grow closer and learn to understand each other more over the course of the show, says Roy. You'll see Hal having to step into Tom's shoes and be the one who has to weigh the options and make the tough decisions.

There's more to these aliens than meets the eye

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

By the end of season one, we'll have learned a bit more about the aliens and what they want with our children. We'll realize "they're not just the one-note horde of invaders that we originally thought," says Verheiden.

And we may also have more of a sense of why the aliens didn't just nuke us from orbit, says Verheiden. There are good strategic reasons why just nuking the planet didn't make sense for these aliens, and why they wanted to leave some of our infrastructure intact.

But we won't have all the answers about the aliens by the end of season one, and the season does end with a cliffhanger, says Verheiden.

There are women who aren't just your typical action chicks

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

Moon Bloodgood, who's no stranger to playing tough chicks in movies like Terminator Salvation, is really excited about her character, Dr. Anne Glass. Not that Anne doesn't get to be tough — she does — but she's not just a one-dimensional character. Anne is a compassionate doctor who never becomes "that stereotypical female action role. If they tried to change her into that, I would be really bummed. But they didn't."

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

In fact Anne is opposed to violence, but she has to embrace violence to survive, says Bloodgood. When you finally see Anne pick up a gun and learn to shoot it, it means a lot more. "She has been hurt, and now she has to become violent to protect herself," says Bloodgood. "When she picks up the gun, she's never comfortable with it. She's always conflicted." Bloodgood's character also has to take some pretty drastic actions to help in the fight against the aliens, and she struggles with that.

And Anne and Tom have a kind of romance, but it's mostly based on them being confidantes and friends, who share a grown-up relationship. Although — spoiler alert — they do kiss in the season finale, says Bloodgood.

There are other female characters in the show who are more resistance fighters than Caretakers — like Sarah, who is a super-tough fighter who deals with the trauma of having been raped and is "damaged." Bloodgood says she loves Sarah's character, but is also glad their characters are different.

And there's at least one seriously dark, messed up character

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

After watching the first seven hours of Falling Skies, I had to ask Verheiden about the character of Pope, the vicious outlaw leader whom you meet in the second of the two episodes airing Sunday. He's kind of an intense character, and it's not at all clear if we're supposed to like him or not. Verheiden says we'll never see Pope "go to that soft place," and it's clear he's a selfish man with a criminal past. He adds:

There is a core of hardness to him that would be difficult to peel away. He is a man who is forced to confront the fact that we're hanging on by our fingernails. On his own, he hasn't got much of a chance. The question for Pope is probably more, "Does he become a joiner?" Much as that fights against every instinct in his body.

But it's not as dark as Battlestar Galactica

Why Falling Skies breaks the mold of alien invasion showsS

Verheiden was also a producer on the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and he says Falling Skies is not bleak in the same way. The situation in BSG is "much more dire," and it's a much more militaristic show. A major theme in Falling Skies is that "the human spirit can triumph over the odds." Our characters, especially Tom and Anne, are struggling to preserve some of the lives they used to have. Verheiden admits that when he started on Falling Skies, he worried the shows would be too similar — but then he realized it wasn't true at all.

Says Roy:

Before I shot the series, I was really forced to read about POWs, and all of these horrible accounts. In all of these horrible conditions they would be put in, they would still find joy, or try to, and they would play games and stuff... During the series, we don't go to this place of whining. Life is going to go on. [So there's a] scene where Tom and Matt throw a lacrosse ball, and I'm out flirting with a girl... Just because things are bad, doesn't mean you have to stew.

And Verheiden says:

I love the optimistic tone [of Falling Skies.] I will bow to no one in my love for Battlestar Galactica. But it's nice to do a change-up where the tone is optimistic and hopeful.

Falling Skies debuts on Sunday at 9 PM on TNT.