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TNT's Falling Skies is nothing new under the sun, but still an invasion worth investing in

Noah Wyle powers a band of resistant earthlings in Falling Skies. TNT photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 19th at 8 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy, Maxim Knight, Will Patton, Connor Jessup, Seychelle Gabriel, Collin Cunningham, Sarah Sanguin Carter, Mpho Koahu, Peter Shinkoda
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Graham Yost, Robert Rodat

Earth had just gotten the sinister alien invaders of V out of the way via the ultimate in lethal weaponry -- network cancellation.

It's always something, though. So another big group of creatures from another planet comes calling in TNT's Falling Skies, a big budget sci fi spectacular with the Steven Spielberg imprimatur.

Scheduled for an eight-week run, the Us vs. Them drama begins with Sunday's reasonably involving two-hour scene-setter. Thankfully, there's a silver lining. Falling Skies gets better as it goes along, judging from two subsequent one-hour episodes -- "Prisoner of War" and "Grace" -- airing on June 26th and July 3rd in the drama's regular 9 p.m (central) slot.

TNT has gone to unusual lengths in reminding TV critics to stifle themselves. Besides the standard request to "refrain from revealing any spoiler information," the network adds this yellow light on review DVDS: "If you have a question about whether something is considered a 'spoiler,' please contact your TNT representative."

Um, well, er, um, Falling Skies is a talkie. And it's in color, too. Thanks, you've been a great audience.

OK, let's reboot.

Unlike V, the invaders of Falling Skies haven't taken on any human forms in hopes of duping earthlings into thinking they've come in peace. Instead it's six months after their wanton attack, with groups of teens already enslaved in spine-gripping "harnesses" while their parents are left wondering whether they're dead or alive.

The aliens maraud in two forms. Giant, insect-like creatures dubbed Skitters are Raid-resistant but can be killed with a big dose of automatic weapons fire or a well-aimed explosive. Their giant-sized metallic robots, known as Mechs, are a lot tougher to bring down. But there aren't nearly as many of them. The invaders also have set up imposing skyscraper-sized command posts around the globe. Still, they seem to be incapable of tracking the broad daylight troop movements of their surviving human prey.

Most of the action in Falling Skies originates from the Boston area, where hard-pressed earthlings of the "2nd Mass" are headquartered at John F. Kennedy High School. Principal among them is Noah Wyle, a veteran of both NBC's ER and TNT's series of Librarian movies. He stars as Beantown history prof Tom Mason, whose wife died in the invasion but whose three sons live on. One of them, Ben (Connor Jessup), has been captured by the invaders and turned into a harness-wearing automaton. There's also precious little eight-year-old Matt (Maxim Knight) and oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy), a hunky sort who now fights alongside his pop.

Falling Skies begins effectively, with kids recounting the invasion via their drawings. "They didn't want to be friends," viewers are informed. "Now moms and dads have to fight."

Wyle's Mason is the resident true believer while gruff Capt. Weaver (Will Patton) serves as the cliche-spouting cynic.

"You know, your optimism is starting to get a little annoying," Weaver barks in the "Grace" episode.

Pardon Mason for enjoying a little laugh before replying, "Would it help if I was a pessimist?"

It would help more if Falling Skies had an edgy, cocksure scene-stealer. And fortunately it does in ex-con John Pope (Collin Cunningham), who also learned how to cook while incarcerated. Pope sounds like Gene Simmons and also has a scraggly mop of hair, but without any mousse. He begins clashing with Mason during the second half of Sunday's premiere. This breathes considerable life into the proceedings. By Hour 4, Pope can get even get away with saying, "This thing is drier than a nun in West Texas." A man like this of course can't be trusted.

Redoubtable Steven Weber (Wings, Brothers & Sisters, etc., etc., etc.) also effectively pitches in as a guest-starring doctor who both knows his stuff and is at odds with Mason because, well, that would be a "spoiler." Look for him in the June 26th episode if you find Falling Skies worth a weekly investment.

Spielberg has become pretty set in his ways as to the way these things should proceed. Appealing kids are part of his formula, as are higher callings and extraterrestrials who also might be able to teaching earthlings a little something. The invaders of Falling Skies are hardly cuddly, but communicating with them could be the key to sending them back where they came from. Sorry about all that destructions, folks, but all we really wanted was a complete set of Sex and the City DVDS. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, the special effects are better than decent and the ensemble cast wears pretty well as Falling Skies begins to hit its stride. Wyle is sturdy enough, whether he's being an action hero, a doting dad or the budding love interest of pediatrician Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), whose only child was taken from her in the initial alien attack.

There's also the faith, hope and charity embodied by a young college student named Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel), who openly prays for ways in which she can best serve God, not vice-versa. Or to put it JFK's way, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

That's the overall gist of Falling Skies, with Wyle's Mason also keeping the faith in a secular way by preaching his psalm that history is full of "inferior forces" who have prevailed. He gives a few examples, including the Boston Red Sox after being down 3-0 to the New York Yankees in their indelible 2004 post-season series.

The creatures featured in Falling Skies seem a lot more formidable than the Yanks, but also susceptible to a few well-placed bean balls by the resistors. TNT has a lot invested, too. This is the "We Know Drama" network's most ambitious series to date. And in due time, it starts to take hold, telling its timeworn alien invasion tale in ways that might well pull you along -- despite any and all inclinations to resist.