- International Pilot
- Signal to Noise: Uncovering Dark Skies
- The Dark Skies Glossary
- Original Sales Presentation
- Original EPK
- Season 2 Proposal
- Network Promos
A strange hybrid of The X-Files and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
Acted by Eric Close, Megan Ward, J.T. Walsh, Jeri Ryan, Tim Kelleher, Conor O’ Farrell.
Created by Brent V. Friedman & Bryce Zabel.
On October 3, 1961, John Loengard (Eric Close) and his girlfriend Kim Sayers (Megan Ward) move to Washington, bright eyed and bushy tailed (whatever the fuck that means), ready to help their country in whatever way they can. Loengard gets work as an assistant to shifty Congressman Pratt, while Kim starts working as an assistant to less shifty Jackie O. Almost instantly, John is tasked to investigate Project Blue Book, a government agency created after the incident in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, to examine the existence of Extraterrestrial Biological Entity’s (or E.B.E.’s). He (again, almost immediately) discovers Project Blue Book is just a cover for the existence of Majestic-12, a top secret organization that is the real front line against an impending war against alien invaders known as The Hive. Majestic is run by Captain Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh), a man so dedicated to his country that there is no line he won’t cross to preserve it. As Loengard and Kim get pulled deeper into the Majestic-12 conspiracy, they’ll have to decide whether the ends justify the means or whether they can retain their own humanity while confronting the aliens among us. Take that, T.V. Guide.
This review might be a bit of a ramble. I have never gone back and forth on my reaction to something so many times as I did while watching the complete Dark Skies box set. I guess I would say I have mixed feelings, due to the staggering amount of time I spent staring at my monitor, wondering where to begin, before actually typing anything. The pilot (excellently directed by Tobe Hooper) really sucked me into the world that they were building, but as the season progressed, watching the episodes felt like kind of a slog. But by the finale, I was fully engrossed again and kind of bummed that there weren’t going to be any more episodes. Not counting the ones I will make in my mind. I’m an only child.
I have to start with the characters and actors, since I think that’s where the chief problem with the show lies. First of all, Eric Close and Megan Ward don’t have much chemistry together to start the series with. Barely a half an hour into the Pilot, John proposes to Kim and I was left sitting there not giving less of a shit whether she said yes or no. We’re never given any back story to fill in how they met or what they like about each other and all of their conversations are centered around Majestic and The Hive, so we never get a sense of them as a couple. They’ve supposedly been together since college, but they almost seem like they’ve only been on a few dates or just met online or something (or whatever the 1960’s equivalent would have been. Two cans and a string? Carrier pidgeon? Yelling from long distances?). Around the halfway point of the series, Jeri Ryan gets introduced as Juliet, a badass Russian Majestic agent and instantly has chemistry with John. Around this same time, there’s a plot development (there’s like 4 twists in the series and I shan’t give any of them away) with Kim’s character and she starts spending a lot more time off camera, and it feels like maybe the writers noticed the connection between Eric Close and Jeri Ryan and slowly started writing Megan Ward out. Regardless, when John and Kim are apart for the final few episodes, they both become slightly more interesting characters since they don’t have their relationship as a character trait anymore. We actually start seeing them more as individuals instead of parts of a unit.
After Loengard discovers proof of The Hive and their plot, Bach blows his fucking mind by telling him that President Kennedy has no idea and never will. But Loengard feels Kennedy HAS to know. It’s not even because he’s president but because he’s John F.uckin Kennedy. The dream of Camelot lives on, apparently. So, John goes rogue against Majestic, contacts Bobby Kennedy to get a meeting with the President, spills everything and then Kennedy ends up dead in Dallas the next day. John thinks Majestic is responsible. This sends Loengard and Kim on a multi-year, cross country scavenger hunt where there primary purpose seems to be getting to E.B.E. evidence before Majestic does. For the first half of the series, every episode follows that same formula.
As John gets sucked further and further into Majestic’s David Icke-ian conspiracy, Kim is basically forced to go along for the ride and doesn’t really bring too much to the table. But before I can explain the problems with Kim’s character I have to explain The Hive. Around the halfway point of the Pilot, Kim is snatched by the Grey’s, which basically look like the Whitley Streiber\X-Files take on E.B.E.’s, you know, with the big almond shaped eyes and the bald head and the gray, elephant like dermis. Like grandpa. While she was up in their ship she was implanted with something called a Ganglion (because they attach themselves to the Ganglion area in your noggin), which makes her a part of the shared consciousness of The Hive. By the end of the Pilot, they remove the Ganglion, but Kim still has some kind of mind meld with them and can sense when they’re close or figure out what they’re going to do next. This ability seems to come and go when needed, which is unfortunate because without it she really doesn’t have a lot of other skills working for her. She starts carrying around an uncomfortably small pistol and anytime she’s about to get into some shit she just yells out “I’ve got a gun” and plays it by ear. The connection she has with The Hive does eventually coalesce into something tangible in the final three episodes of the series, but by then I wasn’t interested enough in her character to care.
John Loengard and Kim Sayers aren’t interesting enough to be the leads of such an ambitious and (what was potentially) genre defining undertaking. Their main characteristic is that they are idealistic and think the world should know about The Hive, while J.T. Walsh’s fascinating Frank Bach only cares about keeping The Hive from taking over the world and keeping that fact a secret. They work at cross purposes so often that I found myself annoyed because the real threat was The Hive. Plus, every time Loengard gets in over his head he calls majestic to come save him and Kim, anyway. Passive\aggressive much? John and Kim almost feel like blank slates when the series starts but the performances from Eric Close and Megan Ward are nowhere near strong enough to be full fledged audience surrogates. Anytime they were onscreen, I couldn’t wait for the shadowy back room dealings of Frank Bach (and the mesmirising performance of J.T. Walsh) to come to the forefront, because those scenes make up the greatest aspect of Dark Skies, by far. The Secret History.
After Kennedy is assassinated and Loengard and Sayers hit the road, they find themselves in the middle of so many famous historical events it’s almost ridiculous but, somehow, it works. One episode will be them trying to stop a hidden Hive broadcast during The Beatles show on Ed Sullivan and then all of a sudden it will jump to a homage of The Thing where they’re fighting Russian prisoners infected with Ganglions with a young Colin Powell. By the time they go on a Hardy Boys type mission with Jim Morrison, I realized this show was really trying to do something original with the Alien Invasion premise, instead of trying to ape The X-Files. The male and female detective dynamic and the basic subject matter are really all these shows have in common. The sheer scope of this series (Season One takes place over several years) makes it a fascinating watch when it’s focused on the history and the politics but, aside from Frank Bach, the character arcs and motivations muddy up the general mythology of the show.
The real stars of Dark Skies are creators Bryce Zabel and Brent Friedman, who crafted a five year arc for this show, similar to what J. Michael Straczynski did for Babylon 5. Each season would span a decade until the fifth and final one, when the show would reach 1999 and arrive at The Hive’s endgame. That makes me wonder if Loengard and Sayers were always going to be the leads of the show or whether their progeny would eventually take over. Would Loengard eventually be reduced to battling the Hive by writing strongly worded letters to the local paper or putting booby trapped gnomes on his freshly manicured lawn? I’d watch four more seasons of the show to arrive at that point.
Zabel\Friedman had (and I’ll bet you anything still have) a very strong vision for this show and I think if they had a budget and cast that matched their imaginations, then this show wouldn’t be a mostly forgotten oddity. Most of the special effect are so goofy that they never inspire wonder or fear, only chuckles and watch glancing. Tobe Hooper does such a marvelous job directing the Pilot that, once episode two showed the mid-nineties (Silk Stockings-ish) low budget directorial style the show would never escape from, it was disheartening and made my eyes mad. If they were able to resurrect this show now and cast people with some charisma and get Brad Anderson on board, they would have a hit for the ages. But, as it stands, it’s a fascinating (if flawed and forgettable) slice of cold war paranoia that gives a new spin on the history of the United States. If that sounds like a cup of tea you would drink then get all up in it, just beware the flat and uninspired directing and uneven performances along the way, for they have sticks and other sharpened objects to make the journey…difficult.
Shout! Factory did an excellent job (as usual) with the box set and it’s special features. There’s a commentary track on the Pilot and finale with Zabel\Friedman (as well as Megan Ward and Eric Close) that sheds light on where the show would have gone if it had been picked up for a second season. It also has some interesting tidbits on other actors that were being looked at for the Loengard character that really makes you imagine what the show might have been. There’s also an hour long documentary that touches on the beliefs of Zabel\Friedman and how they shaped the tone of the show. They both seem to be devoted U.F.Ologists and history buffs who believe a lot of the paranoia inducing theories that this show traffics in. Finally, there’s some original T.V. spots, the international version of the Pilot and the pitch for a second season that never materialized. If you’re a fan of the show and were left reeling by the unresolved cliffhanger ending, then this set is a must own, simply for all the information about the future stories the show was going to tell. If only The 4400 and Carnivale would learn from these guys.
The biggest problem with the set is the transfer, which is pretty murky and even has some ghosting every once in awhile. It almost feels like you’re watching an old recording of the show’s original broadcast at some points. The sound is barely in stereo and a little cloudy, but I’m not sure there was anything to be done about it, as it’s been out of circulation for quite some time. As I said earlier, if there’s any old show that could use a re-boot, this is the one.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars