Monday, July 30, 2012

The Olympics and Television

Olympic television has come a long way since it began with CBS’s coverage of the 1960 games.  In an era before advanced satellites, videotapes of the events for the 1960 Summer Games in Rome had to be flown back to New York for editing prior to airing.  A then-obscure reporter named Jim McKay hosted some of the initial programs (Maraniss, p. 134-136).

By the early 1970s, ABC became the primary network for the games and ABC Sports chief Roone Arledge pioneered the formula for covering the spectacle.  Just as during the current fortnight, Arledge produced tape-delayed coverage of marquee events in prime time, when viewership is at its peak.  Using up close and personal biographies to foster audience familiarity, Arledge generated viewer interest in athletes few Americans had heard of before each Olympics.  While the Game’s success is taken for granted today, ABC achieved a remarkable feat by attracting millions of people to tune in night after night to watch sports the country ignores in the interim years.  Having moved to ABC, McKay became the regular Olympic host and Walter Cronkite of the quadrennial ritual.  When NBC bought the rights to the games in the 1990s, Arledge protégé Dick Ebersol followed the same formula with Bob Costas assuming McKay’s role.

Before cable, the Olympics completely dominated television and culture for two weeks while launching the careers of multiple stars in both the Winter and Summer Games.  Peggy Fleming, Mark Spitz, Dorothy Hamill, the pre-Kardashian Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis, and Mary Lou Retton became celebrities who earned lucrative endorsements and are often still recognized in airports and restaurants today.

As ratings declined with the emergence of greater entertainment options in the 1990s and early 21st century, the Olympic hype machine seemed to sputter, only generating a few stars here or there. Unlike earlier figure skating gold medalists such as Fleming and Hamill, ’98 and ’02 figure skating champions Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes quickly returned to relative obscurity.  Similarly, ’04 and ’08 gymnastic titlists Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin received few endorsements compared with ’84 champ Retton.  In recent years, only swimmer Michael Phelps has become a breakout star.

Every network that has covered the games has focused heavily on American athletes and media critics routinely mock the jingoism of U.S. television coverage.  Indeed, it is striking to watch the international feed on live streaming in the afternoon and contrast it with the nationalistic tone of the prime-time coverage on NBC.  Over the years, though, the networks have also introduced Americans to a number of international stars, including Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, East German figure skater Katarina Witt, Italian skier Alberto Tomba, and Australian runner Cathy Freeman.

The Arledge strategy has become somewhat anachronistic in recent years, as the tape-delay formula appears dated in the era of the Internet and social media.  Despite NBC’s live streaming of all events for the first time during the London games, many still bemoan the fact that the network won’t air the key events in swimming, gymnastics, and track and field live during the afternoon.  NBC still believes it can only earn back the investment from its hefty rights fees by showing the big stars during prime time.

Aided by wall-to-wall television coverage, the Olympics so dominate the national discussion during the summer that pundits consider it axiomatic that the presidential campaigns must scale back during their two-week run.  Commentators have noted that Mitt Romney will not introduce his running mate until after the games are over so as to not diminish the attention given to his announcement.  Such is the cultural power that the games have after coming into our homes for a half-century.

Sources: David Maraniss, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, (New York. 2008)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Brief History of the Olympics

The Olympic Games have changed dramatically since French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the ancient Greek tradition in the late 19th century.  The modern games, first held in Athens during the summer of 1896, have become one of the biggest sporting events in the world, matched only by the World Cup.  As a result, the Olympics have often served as the stage for political rivalries and the promotion of national prestige.  Once a bastion of amateur athleticism, professional athletes dominate today’s competition.

Politics gradually became part of the games in its early years.  In 1936, Adolf Hitler used the Berlin Summer Olympics as a propaganda tool to bolster the international stature of his Third Reich.  In the months before the Olympics, the Nazis tempered their anti-Jewish policies in order to counter news stories of the regime’s repression.  Though the Fuhrer hoped the games would provide a venue to demonstrate Aryan supremacy, African-American sprinter Jesse Owens stole the show when he won four gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 4X100 meter relay, and the long jump.

Suspended during World War II, the Olympics resumed in 1948 and the Soviet Union returned to the games in Helsinki in 1952.  During the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never actually faced off in battle (except in “Red Dawn”).  As a result, the games became one of the few arenas where the US and the USSR actually fought for world supremacy.  The Soviets invested huge resources in athletic programs to demonstrate the superiority of its communist system vis-à-vis Western capitalism.  The medal count became a battlefield in the ideological conflict between the two countries and led to some of the most dramatic moments in the history of the modern games, such as the controversial Russian victory over the US in the 1972 gold medal basketball game and the US hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet hockey team in 1980.

The Olympics also became a venue for nations to demonstrate their power and prosperity.  Both the 1964 Tokyo Games and the 1972 Munich Games were designed to illustrate the economic recovery of the former Axis powers, Japan and Germany.  Notably, German officials deliberately implemented weak security measures at the Munich Games to contrast it with the heavily militarized environment of the Berlin Olympics of 1936.  Sadly, this created the conditions that allowed Arab terrorists to invade the Olympic Village and capture 11 Israeli athletes, holding them hostage until they murdered them during a shootout with police at a Munich airport.

The 1960 Rome Games would be the first games seen on American television.  By the 1970s, TV coverage would grow to the point that the games would dominate prime-time schedules for two weeks of the summer.  American television money would also become a key element of the Olympics’ bottom line.

The Olympics fell into financial difficulty during the 1970s and few cities competed to host the games.  Los Angeles Olympic organizer Peter Ueberroth changed the business model in the summer of 1984, using existing venues and corporate support to make the games profitable once again.  Ueberroth became Time’s “Man of the Year” and the battle to host the games became high stakes, eventually leading to a bribery scandal over the right to host the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Politics returned to the games with a vengeance in the 1980s as President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Games of 1980 to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.  The Soviet bloc responded in kind with a boycott of the 1984 LA Games.  The 1988 Seoul Olympics saw an end to the tit-for-tat and served as the first Summer Games with every major power competing since 1976.

For years, only amateur athletes were allowed to take part in the competition. The Warsaw Pact countries made a mockery of this ideal by paying their athletes to serve in the military, even though all they did was train for their sport.  Eventually, the governing bodies of each sport allowed professionals to participate, exemplified by the 1992 US Olympic basketball squad, known as the “Dream Team,” composed of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and other top NBA stars.

With the Cold War over, the battles between the US and the Soviet Union for medal supremacy no longer dominate the games.  Long past the days of amateurism, the Olympics have become a full-scale advertisement for commercialism, replete with multi-billion dollar television contracts and corporate sponsorships.  One could not turn your head in any direction during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics without seeing a Coca-Cola ad. Today, world-famous professional athletes from basketball and tennis participate alongside relatively obscure swimmers and track stars.  Though some bemoan the evolution of the games, the spectacle will transfix the people of the United States and the world for the next two weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises"

Despite a plethora of positive reviews from critics, I have to give my thumbs down to Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises. “  Though it does offer more commentary on 21st century America, I would add it to a list of disappointing conclusion to movie trilogies (SPOILERS to follow).

The movie begins eight years after Batman (Christian Bale) took the blame for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s crimes at the end of “The Dark Knight.”  In the aftermath of Harvey’s fraudulent martyrdom, Gotham passed the Dent Act, which allowed the courts to put criminals behind bars without parole (a G’tmo analogy).  As a result, crime in the city has fallen dramatically under Commissioner Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) leadership while Batman disappeared from public view.

Reflecting the difficulties many Iraq/Afghan veterans have encountered returning home, Bruce Wayne appears to have post-traumatic stress syndrome, remaining ensconced in the rebuilt Wayne estate, making public appearances as infrequently as Howard Hughes.  Gordon also pays a steep price for maintaining the deception and has lost his family in the intervening years.   When a congressman tells another character that the mayor is going to fire Gordon shortly, he responds, “He’s a hero.”  “A war hero,” corrects the congressman, “This is peacetime.”  This could be seen as allegory to the U.S., which has gradually moved back to a pre-9/11 mentality in the absence of a major attack over the last decade.

The film’s primary villain is Bane (Tom Hardy), a bizarre masked villain who seeks to complete Raz’a Gul’s (Liam Neeson) plan from “Batman Begins’ to destroy Gotham.  He sets off a series of spectacular attacks that destroy bridges as well as the field of a football stadium.  Stealing a fusion reactor from Wayne Enterprises, Bane and his allies turn It into a nuclear bomb and threaten to set if off should anyone leave the city, making is citizens hostages.

Economic inequality and class division are undercurrents of the film, two themes that have become more prominent in the national political debate since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008.  At one point, Selina Kyle, a.k.a “Catwoman” (Anne Hathaway) says to Bruce Wayne, “You think this will last. There's a storm coming Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you'll wonder how you ever lived so large and left so little for the rest of us.”  Indeed, the stock exchange is one of Bane’s first targets and he manipulates trades to bankrupt Wayne.

Once he takes over Gotham, Bane declares that he is returning the city “to the people” and gives a speech espousing an extreme utopian ideology.  In scenes evocative out of China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, rich people are arrested, denounced by citizens and sentenced to death in show trials.  When Kyle and her accomplice take over an apartment, Catwoman notices a family picture on the floor.  “This was somebody’s home,” she says sadly.  Her friend responds, ”And now it’s our home.”

Frankly, I feel the film goes totally off the rails at this point.  A long, extended occupation of Gotham follows while Bane puts Wayne in some obscure Middle Eastern prison.  What follows is a drawn-out conclusion while Batman regains his strength, returns to Gotham, and then manages to fly the bomb out of the city, Jack Bauer-style (He even yells at Bane, “Tell me where the bomb is!”)

It seems as if Nolan felt the need to outdo himself after “The Dark Knight.”  The final film lacks the compelling origins story of the first or the engaging premise of the second.  Given the relative weakness of the last chapters of recent trilogies, it may just be that the formula runs out of gas at the end. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Batman and Post-9/11 America

Perhaps no movie series has embodied the country’s anxieties and concerns about the post-9/11 world as much as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight (2008).” With the final installment of the trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises,” premiering this weekend, I watched the first two movies again.  The common theme running throughout both is the continuing challenge of maintaining our values while fighting a war on terror against enemies who don’t follow any rules.

Clearly influenced by Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” comics of the 1980s, “Batman Begins” depicts a darker caped crusader than seen in either the Joel Schumacher films of the 1990s or the Tim Burton films of the late 80s.  As Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) completes his training with Ra’s Al Gul/Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) in “Begins,” his mentor demands he execute a prisoner.  Wayne refuses, saying he should be tried in a court.  When Ra’s responds that “Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.”  Wayne retorts, “That’s why it’s so important. It separates us from them.”  Hard to imagine a more succinct summary of the critique of the Bush/Cheney war on terror.

While Batman largely fights mobsters and drug dealers in “Begins,” he must also fend off the League of Shadows’ plan to destroy Gotham by spreading an aerosol that will turn everyone insane, spawning massive chaos.  Though Jack Nicholson’s Joker plans a similar attack to poison the water in Burton’s “Batman” (1989), it came across as much more silly and comical than Ra’s Al Gul’s machinations in “Begins.”  To stop the attack, Batman must prevent a subway train from hitting Wayne Towers at the end of the film.  While watching the movie during its initial theatrical release in 2005, I instinctively thought of the scene as an allegory for a plane flying into the World Trade Center.  Furthermore, Ra’s bizarre belief that the League of Shadows must destroy corrupt civilizations seemed similar to the anti-Western ideology of Islamic radicals.

Nolan and the writers make the connection between the war on terror much more explicit in “Dark Knight.”  After Batman puts a lock on the money supply of organized crime, the mob turns to the Joker (Heath Ledger) to stop him.  While Nicholson’s Joker is a mob enforcer who goes insane after Batman drops him in a vat of chemicals, Ledger’s is a pure psychopath with no known origins.  He serves as a stand in for Osama Bin Laden, willing to attack any individual or institution, including judges, police commissioners, and even hospitals.  The Joker’s behavior is similar to the strategy of the insurgents in Iraq, who routinely killed such officials during the worst years of the war.  Indeed, the Gotham City in “Dark Knight” resembles the pre-surge Baghdad of 2006-07.  Though Wayne believes he must understand the Joker’s motivation, Alfred (Michael Caine) warns him that “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”  If the Joker has any concrete goal, it is turn the city against itself.

Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent debate how to respond to the Joker, who calls himself an ”agent of chaos.”  When Batman tries to pump a leading mobster for information, he tells Batman that no one is going to betray the Joker for him because the caped crusader still has “rules” while the Joker has none.  Indeed, the Joker tries to provoke Batman to break his only rule and kill him in cold blood.  After an attempt on the mayor of Gotham’s life, Dent kidnaps one of the Joker’s minions and threatens him in order to obtain information, at the same time the nation was debating the merits of the Bush/Cheney policies regarding Guantanamo Bay and enhanced interrogation techniques.  Batman tells him Dent can’t behave this way because he must remain the symbol of hope for Gotham.

Wayne himself creates a massive private surveillance system to spy on Gotham’s citizenry in order to find the Joker.  Upon discovering the program, Wayne Enterprise CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) tells him it is  “unethical” and “dangerous,” but will operate it once to find the Joker and then resign from Wayne Enterprises should it remains in use.  The debate between Wayne and Fox is clearly a commentary on the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program and its expansion of government power during the post 9/11 years.  Once Fox uses the system to help Batman capture the Joker, he enters his name into the computer as instructed by Wayne.  It then self-destructs.  “The Dark Knight’s” message seems to be that extra steps may be necessary to defeat terrorism in the short-term, but should not become permanent.  Of course, civil libertarians have been disturbed by many of the new measures enacted since 9/11 because unlike previous conflicts with nation-states, there will be no definitive end to a war against stateless terrorist groups .  Despite the election of Barack Obama and the death of Bin Laden, many of the new powers seem likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

In the end, Batman captures the Joker without killing him, maintaining his code.  After he is maimed and his girlfriend is killed during one of the Joker’s attacks, though, Harvey Dent goes insane and becomes villain Two-Face.  Far more menacing than Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of the same character in “Batman Forever” (1995), he blames Gordon and Batman.  Dent/Two-Face kidnaps and threatens Gordon’s family, barking at Batman, “you thought we could be decent men in a indecent time,” a clear reference to the dilemmas posed by Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.  Though he stops Dent, Batman takes the blame for Two-Face’s killing spree as the movie ends, in order to prevent Gotham from losing hope.

Both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” are excellent movies and among the best comic book films ever.  From the previews, it appears that the final film will offer more commentary on the war on terror.  Moreover, “The Dark Knight Rises” seems likely to reflect on the Great Recession as well, which had just begun when the last film arrived in theaters.  I’ll report back next week after seeing the final chapter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

USA's "Political Animals"

After watching the premiere of USA’s mini-series “Political Animals,” I’m not completely sure what to make of it.  For most of the pilot, I agreed with the snippets of the reviews I’ve seen.  The story is simply too close to the Clintons’ saga and the storyline is too conventional.  The last few minutes, however, suggest there might be more to the show.

The program focuses on Elaine Hammond (Sigourney Weaver), a First Lady turned failed presidential candidate turned Secretary of State. Sound familiar?  Her campaign materials even say simply “Elaine” just like Hilary Clinton’s read “Hilary.”  The program begins with her conceding the presidential primary race, declaring that the first women president is in the offing, just as Hilary did in her concession speech in 2008. Her husband Bud is a Bill Clinton clone, a former two-term president as well as a philanderer who got in trouble questioning the credentials of Elaine’s primary challenger, a young Italian-American senator named Paul Garcetti.  It seems like nothing more than a ripped from the headlines “Law and Order” episode until Elaine asks her husband for a divorce immediately after conceding the race.

Following her defeat, Elaine embraces Senator Garcetti and campaigns to get him elected.  After the divorce, Bud Hammond’s popularity declines as he courts young television stars while complaining that Garcetti pledged to govern differently from him, but instead hired half of his staff from the Hammond administration (just as Obama criticized Bill Clinton’s modest achievements during the ’08 primary while hiring Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, and other Clinton veterans once in office.)

As always, Weaver is good, but the character is simply too much of a Hilary clone.  Cherry Jones was better as a Hilary-like leader in seasons 7 and 8 of “24” because her President Alison Taylor was more than just a copy of the Secretary of State.  Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) is also a compilation of every Bill Clinton stereotype.  He is brilliant, charming, flawed and undisciplined.  John Travolta’s Clintonesque performance in “Primary Colors” (1998) was far superior.

Of some interest is the portrayal of Garcetti, the Obama-like president.  Played by Adrian Pasdar (“Heroes”), Garcetti tells Elaine Hammond that she should be grateful she lost, declaring, “I was a dog chasing a car and I caught a bus.  The economy’s in free fall.  I can’t pass one piece of legislation through Congress. I go on TV to communicate a vision and America collectively turns me off to watch drunk housewives and singing competitions.“  President Garcetti is depicted as inferior to both Hammonds and not up to the job.  Since 2009, many Republicans, as well as a few Democrats, have suggested that Bill Clinton was a more effective president than Obama is and that Hilary Clinton would have been a superior choice as well.  The conservatives promoting this idea have conveniently forgotten how much they despised the two during the not-so-distant 1990s.

In between, “Political Animals” features a lot of soap opera intrigue within the Hammond family and between other characters. Weaver’s strong performance in the final part of the show salvages the pilot and, in the end, Elaine declares that she is going to run for president again and win.  With the prospect of a Hilary/Elaine challenge to Obama/Garcetti (another cable news fantasy), the future episodes may hold some potential.  In addition, I assume Weaver would be careful about choosing her first television show so I will withhold final judgment for now.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"The Amazing Spider-Man"

I highly recommend “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which is extremely enjoyable even though it should be too soon for a reboot of the franchise.  Employing a darker tone than the Tobey Maguire movies, it is different enough to carve out its own niche.  Dramatically better than the lamentable “Spider-Man 3” (2007), I dare say it might be the best Spidey yet (SPOILERS to follow).

Director Marc Webb was clearly influenced by another reboot, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” (2005).  Opening with the disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents, the film immediately differentiates itself from the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy.  Though Parker is depicted as a high school outsider in “Spider-Man” (2002), comic book bully “Flash” Thompson beats him up in more vicious fashion early in “Amazing.”  Parker’s high school, Midtown Science (a clear stand-in for real-life Bronx Science) bears little resemblance to the optimism of McKinley High in television’s “Glee.”

Reflecting Cold War-era concerns about the atomic age, a radioactive spider bites Parker and gives him his powers in the original Stan Lee comic book in 1962.  Other comic book heroes of Marvel’s golden era of the 1960s received their powers in a similar fashion, with Bruce Banner becoming the Incredible Hulk after accidental exposure to a nuclear test and the Fantastic Four getting their abilities following bombardment by cosmic rays in space.  With the Cold War long over in 2002, a genetically modified spider is responsible for transforming Parker in the first “Spider-Man” film.  As best one can tell, it is another genetically altered arachnid that bites Parker (Andrew Garfield) during at trip to OSCORP in the reboot.

As in the original trilogy, Peter Parker patrols a relatively safe New York City, featuring much less mayhem than the Gotham of the Tim Burton-directed “Batman” movies of the late 80s and early 90s.  Reflecting the decline in crime nationally and in the city itself by the early 21st century, Spider-Man mostly battles minor criminals and there is no sense of a metropolis under siege.  See

Of course, the major threat does not come from conventional criminals, but from the big bad nemesis, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a.k.a. “The Lizard.”  Like Doctor Octopus in “Spider-Man 2,” (2004) Connors is a scientist with apparently good intentions who is transformed into a villain when his experiment goes awry. “The Lizard’s” rampages in “Amazing” are reminiscent of “Jurassic Park,” (1993) as he terrorizes the city like a dinosaur.  When Parker tells Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) that Connors is a giant lizard, he sarcastically responds, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo?” a wry reference to the old Godzilla movies.

Connor’s plan features some 9/11 overtones, as he wants to release a bio toxin throughout the city to transform everyone into a hybrid creature like himself.  With the passage of a decade, though, the terrorist attacks are less of a presence than in the first Maguire movie, which was released a mere nine months after 9/11.  In the 2002 film, a NYC crowd helps Spidey defeat the Green Goblin by clobbering him with projectiles as one yells, “You mess with one of us you mess with all of us.”  The film concludes with Spider-Man standing next to an American flag, at the same time flags hung on houses and businesses around the country as a response to the tragedy.

The film does have some weak spots, as the audience must endure aspects of the origin story, like the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), for a second time.  Still, Emma Stone’ s Gwen Stacy is a stronger character than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson because she is more of a sidekick to Parker as opposed to a damsel in distress.  The action scenes are also more engaging, perhaps due to continued improvement in technology.

Early box office grosses suggests the film is getting strong word of mouth and the movie’s conclusion lays the groundwork for sequels that revolve around the unresolved fate of Parker’s parents.  I very much anticipate another strong series.

Monday, July 2, 2012

TNT's "Falling Skies"

TNT’s “Falling Skies” has proved to be one of the surprising television pleasures of the summer.  After an average first season, the first four episodes of season two have demonstrated significant improvement, making the show an engaging science fiction program.  Though I have recently discussed the fading influence of 9/11 on television and film, “Falling Skies” is yet another in a line of quality sci-fi/fantasy shows and movies that have used alien attacks as an allegory for terrorism and its aftermath since 2001.

Like “Battlestar Galactica”(2003-2009), “Falling Skies” portrays humanity struggling to survive following an alien invasion.  In this case, the show begins six months after the initial attack and focuses on a resistance group called the “Second Massachusetts,“ employing the same name as a Continental Army unit that fought in the American Revolution.  Among its leaders is Professor Tom Mason (“ER’s” Noah Wyle), who taught military history prior to the attacks and now puts his academic expertise to real world use.  The show is replete with references to the American Revolution as an analogy for humanity’s resistance to the aliens and the first season even takes place in the Boston area, not far from Lexington and Concord, where America’s War for Independence began in 1775.

Though the aliens’ ultimate goals are unclear at this point, they routinely capture children and attach a parasite that makes them subservient.  From what we know, the “harness,” as the resistance calls it, will eventually transform the children into aliens.   In the pilot, we discover that the aliens have “harnessed” one of Mason’s sons, Ben, and Mason is determined to get him back. The Second Massachusetts rescues Ben during the first season, but once the apparatus is safely removed it is not clear if he is rid of its influence or has been permanently altered by the process.  Other members of the unit remain suspicious of him and just as humans in “Galactica” couldn’t always tell if someone was an enemy Cylon, the humans in “Falling Skies” fear that the enemy may be among them.  These fears are exacerbated when Mason himself returns to the Second Massachusetts after surviving a stint aboard one of the alien spacecraft.  Both “Galactica” and “Skies” reveal the post-9/11 fear that sleeper cells or other terrorists might lurk in our midst.

While the resistance fights off the aliens, they also have to protect a group of refugees.  As a civilian, Mason often clashes over tactics with his career military superior, Captain Weaver (Will Patton), much like President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) fought in the early seasons of “Galactica. “  Like Roslin and Adama, though, Mason and Weaver appear to have patched up their differences and become friendly.

Greater hope emerges in the third episode of this season when a pilot finds the rebels and tells them about the formation of a new government in Charleston, SC, called the “Continental Congress” (another reference to the American Revolution).  Weaver and Mason decide to lead their unit to South Carolina in hopes of joining a broader-based resistance.  Like the Galactica’s search for the mythical Earth, the Second Massachusetts hopes to find safe harbor and a new beginning.

I might have stopped watching “Falling Skies” after season one if not for my DVR.  After all, alien invasion and resistance has been depicted many times before on the small and big screen, from the original “V” to “Independence Day.”  With Steven Spielberg serving as executive producer, “Skies” also bears more than a passing resemblance to his remake of “War of the Worlds” (2005).  Though it feels too familiar at times, “Falling Skies” is proving to be a worthwhile addition to the genre.