Sunday, January 08, 2023

The Man Who Fell to Earth, Season One (and Only), on DVD

Nobody is ever going to forget David Bowie starred in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, so, wisely, the creators of this series avoided any need to accuse the “Wild Eyed Boys” of “toxic fandom.” Their series adaptation of Walter Tevis’s novel builds on the 1976 film, instead of trying to tear it down (in a way that is somewhat akin to the 2022 Quantum Leap series). Let’s give thanks to Bowie, for being such an icon. Decades after Thomas Jerome Newton arrived on Earth, another alien from Anthea comes looking for him in Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet’s 10-episode The Man Who Fell to Earth, which releases this Tuesday on DVD.

It turns out Newton was an adept, whereas Faraday is just a drone on Anthea. Yes, this series’ intergalactic sociology is as didactically class-conscious as afternoon tea at the Glasgow Labour Party HQ. Environmental catastrophe is also on the horizon for us, but it is already choking Anthea to death. Newton was supposed to be the planet’s best hope, but he has gone dark, thanks to human fears and his own adoption of earthly vices. Faraday is supposed to get him back on track. Of course, his name really isn’t Faraday. He just picks it up from the intake officer, who processes him after he is arrested for being naked and weird.

Aside from Newton, the only name Faraday has in his mental rolodex is that of Justin Falls (presumably short for “Justina”), who should have invented cold fusion, but came up tragically short. According to his instructions, Faraday is supposed to help her finish the job, but he needs the double-secret patents locked in the vault of Newton’s old tech company. Falls was already taking care of her daughter and her ailing father, but she reluctantly agrees to guide Faraday on his quest.

After Newton went-off the grid (and we mean way, way off), the Flood family took over the company with the CIA’s backing. Yes, the CIA are the bad guys, yet again. Spencer Clay is the worst of them—and also the most neurotic. Newton has been one of his two driving obsessions, so when he discovers the arrival of a new Anthean, he hopes Faraday can lead him to Newton.

The reclusive weirdo really is out there somewhere. Occasionally, he will even communicate with Faraday, his former drone back in the day, through the Force, or whatever. Who could credibly step into David Bowie’s platform shoes? Actually, the casting of Bill Nighy is pretty shrewd. He has a similar physicality and he projects the right degree of oddity. Each episode is titled after a Bowie song too, so Kurtzman and Lumet definitely show the proper respect.

The first six episodes or so are surprisingly engaging, thanks in large measure to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s distinctive performance as Faraday. Instead of cutely quirky, like
Starman or Brother from Another Planet, he is so alien (literally) he is almost non-functional. Naomie Harris portrays Falls with toughness and sensitivity that successfully counterbalances him. She is definitely one of the best things going for the series. Plus, Martha Plimpton has a terrific guest shot in the first episode as Officer Faraday and Zoe Wanamaker is a showstopper as Watt, Faraday’s unlikely advisor.

Unfortunately, Jimmi Simpson radiates sleaze as the odious Clay, but completely lacks any sense of menace or forcefulness. The despicable character also insults the memory of the 139 CIA officers and employees who died in the line of duty. Can’t Hollywood and the big entertainment companies ever show any respect to our intelligence services?

Still, it is interesting to watch Faraday negotiate his strange new world and the ways Kurtzman and Lumet refer and link back to the previous film are often quite clever (perhaps wisely, they ignore the 1987 TV-movie-failed pilot, as has everyone else). However, when Clay starts going Black Site on Faraday, viewers will feel like they are being water-boarded too.

Although the series addresses issues of race, class, and environmentalism, is does so rather deftly, whereas the heavy hand really comes out when it demonizes the CIA. In this case, less would have been more, because the series ultimately overstays its welcome. It is a good series to stream on Showtime, because it is an interesting attempt at a decades-later continuation story, but most viewers will want to bail when the thumb-screws come out. Not recommended as a purchase,
The Man Who Fell to Earth Season One goers on-sale Tuesday (1/10) on DVD.