More than 45 years later »The man who fell to earthopened with David Bowie’s wistful landing in a Kentucky lake, Showtime’s new sequel series sends Chiwetel Ejiofor spiraling through the New Mexico desert to finish what he started. The connection between the 1976 film and this 2022 show is clear from the start, even before Bill Nighy appears as the older version of Bowie’s character, Thomas Newton. And yet, there’s not much Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet’s simpler version shares with its elegant predecessor beyond their common premise.
Part of that stark difference is down to design, particularly when it comes to the particular spatial quirk that anchors this continuation. In the first four episodes of the season, Ejiofor’s Farraday represents the show’s most useful and successful departure from the one at the heart of Walter Tevis’ novel and Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation, not least because no one can quite echo Bowie‘s ethereal footsteps (although Nighy, probably the best cast of old Bowie the show could have managed, comes as close as it gets). Ejiofor offers a complete contrast between his anxious and robotic physique and the way he expresses confusion, loneliness and fear.
Farraday is also far less interested in adapting to life on Earth than Newton, whether that means food, sex, or understanding the frustrating nuances of human emotion. It’s less because he’s incapable of feeling anything, more than the fact that, as he points out at every possible turn, his species is nearly extinct. He’s more direct and focused in his desperation to save his home planet – the mission Newton abandoned in a drunken fog, even before the CIA intervened.
Therein lies the second significant difference between the “The Man Who Fell to Earth” iterations, essentially out of necessity. Set nearly half a century after Newton was supposed to save his overheated planet, the series tells an even more overt tale of climate crisis about Farraday and deceased scientist Justin Falls (Noemie Harris) trying to save ours too. Their partnership seemingly forms the backbone of this series, which makes it even more frustrating that Harris spends the better part of three episodes asking her questions in shocked disbelief.
As it will surprise anyone not paying even an ounce of attention to very real news, the main antagonists of the series are the companies that remain too invested in the exploitation of the Earth for oil to care to bleed it white into the world. process. As sadistic CIA agent Spencer Clay (an annoying Jimmi Simpson) and manager Drew (Kate Mulgrew, excellent even in small doses) go on a manhunt for Newton, the heirs of the stolen tech company de Newton (Sonya Cassidy and Rob Delaney) bicker over the future of his prized patents. Simpson gets the higher-stakes action, but it’s Cassidy and Delaney who steal more scenes as the Flood siblings, thanks to the contrast between Cassidy’s unnerving chill and Delaney’s brash anxiety.
Much like Roeg’s film, Kurtzman and Lumet’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is at its most intriguing in such clashes of tone, or more simply put, at its most bizarre. It could mean the ghostly Newton giving warnings between gin slugs and tornado bursts, or Farraday swallowing gallons of water for his life, or Justin trying to hold together in the eerie calm of the ancestral home of the Floods. Given how beautifully weird its source material is, however, the production seems overall hesitant to get too weird lest it permanently push audiences away.
Kurtzman, a prolific producer behind the latest iterations of the “Star Trek” franchise, directed the first four episodes and takes about as long to stretch beyond a more rote approach. And beyond the confines of Justin’s desert home, which his ailing father (Clarke Peters) once adorned with playful ironwork, not even the production or set design do much to create a world different from ours.
The show’s most glaring mistake, however, might just be its very first scene. By showing a wildly successful Farraday telling his story to an elated crowd as an Elon Musk alien, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ falls prey to one of current television’s most tired opening clichés. in the future before going back to explain how it happened. In fact, knowing that Farraday is convincing the world that he’s an otherworldly genius before you figure it out deflates a lot of the show’s tension before it even begins. It makes sense that the Earth Farraday stumbled upon wouldn’t be as peculiar as Newton’s, but the series would be more memorable if it were half as weird.
“The Man Who Fell to Earth” premieres Sunday, April 24 at 10 p.m.
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