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Earth versus the flying saucers


Falling Skies, Rocco’s Dinner Party and more television reviews

Dean Robbins June 15th, 2011


Falling Skies
Sunday, 8 p.m. (TNT)

“Falling Skies” is a superior alien-invasion series because it cares about the humans more than the aliens. In the prologue, we learn about a horrifying chain of events through the perspective of a child’s drawings: The aliens came and conquered, forcing survivors to form ad hoc resistance factions. The boy who drew the pictures is in a sort of alternative-family paramilitary outfit that includes his history-professor dad, Tom (Noah Wylie). The community doesn’t include Tom’s wife, who was killed by the aliens, or his son Ben, who’s been captured.

“Falling Skies” plunges you into the battle for survival, to the point where you cheer a resistance fighter recovering a stray can of tuna for sustenance.

But this is much more than just an alien shoot-’em-up. Presumably with input from executive producer Steven Spielberg, the production emphasizes human personalities and relationships, finding tenderness and even humor in the grim scenario.

In the two-hour pilot’s most stunning scene, Tom and a small guerrilla force manage to kill a creepy alien. Rather than whooping it up, however, they feel guilty about what they’ve done. As they stare into the thing’s arachnoid-reptilian face in its death throes, Tom says, “I wonder what it’s thinking.”

Just the fact that “Falling Skies” cares what it’s thinking establishes the series as extraordinary.

Rocco’s Dinner Party
Wednesday, 10 p.m. (Bravo)

Rocco DiSpirito has a decent idea for his new cooking show: Pit two chefs against each other to see who can throw the best dinner party. Pick a theme for the parties and put the contestants in charge not only of the food, but the décor. Listen in on the guests’ sparkling conversation and let them pick the winner.

The pilot does a good job with the “dinner” part of “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” The two chefs both have sophisticated concepts, and it’s a pleasure to watch them prepare mouthwatering oxtail, cod, grits and mushroom salad. The “party” part, though, leaves something to be desired. The guests are minor actors, chefs and TV personalities, and they have nothing interesting to say about the food or anything else. Sample conversation: “Delicious, absolutely delicious!” “This dessert is awesome!” “It’s really well-cooked!” It’s a shame to waste good food on people this dull.

Miss USA
Sunday, 8 p.m. (NBC)

If Donald Trump ended up running for president, who would have overseen the Miss USA pageant?

It’s hard to know how Trump would have worked out as commander in chief, but we can gain insight into his likely judicial picks by scanning a decade’s worth of his choices for pageant judges. I’m gonna guess he would have nominated Playboy model Holly Madison for court of appeal, gossip columnist Perez Hilton for district court and his own son Eric for supreme court.

Drop Dead Diva
Sunday, 8 p.m. (Lifetime)

A gorgeous model named Deb has returned to life in a non-gorgeous body and now works as a lawyer named Jane (Brooke Elliott). It would seem crazy to expect this premise to yield anything more than silliness, but I recall early episodes of “Drop Dead Diva” as being dramatically satisfying.

Not so the season-three premiere, which finds the series wallowing in camp. Jane keeps lapsing into dreams, in which she chats with Paula Abdul, boogies with an entire hospital staff, etc. Junky cameos by Wendy Williams, LeAnn Rimes and Mario Lopez make it impossible to take the plot seriously. Not that you would have anyway: Jane defends a bad-boy movie star, while Kim (Kate Levering) sues a man for having sex with his ex-wife.

Has “Drop Dead Diva” hit rock bottom, or am I about to wake up from a dream?

 
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