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Falling Skies still makes its special effects count while the scripts crash and burn

Noah Wyle is ever at the ready in Falling Skies. TNT photo

It's been a trying TV year for Steven Spielberg, overseer of Fox's Terra Nova, ABC's The River, Showtime's United States of Tara and NBC's Smash.

The first three are goners while Smash has been sent packing to midseason after its initial promise gave way to ridicule from many who had first praised it.

That leaves TNT's Falling Skies, the futuristic aliens vs. earthlings saga returning for Season 2 with back-to-back episodes airing Sunday, June 17th at 8 p.m. (central).

Its new slogan is "The Battle Is Just Getting Started." Unfortunately, so are the cliches and predictability in a series whose first-rate special effects vie with groan-inducing lines such as "I've never been able to control my anger. It sweeps through me like a brushfire."

That one won't come your way until Episode 4. As usual it's from the very tightly wound Captain Dan Weaver. The poor guy who plays him, Will Patton, continually gets saddled with the worst lines Falling Skies has to offer.

Sunday's Episode 1 finds him telling the oldest son of resistor Tom Mason (series star Noah Wyle), "Your father's a fighter, Hal. I know that first-hand."

In Episode 3, it's second verse same as the first: "Jimmy's a fighter. Always has been."

Furthermore, "You don't get points for effort" (Ep. 1). And "It's a long way to go on a wing and a prayer" (Ep. 3). Plus, "I'm not going to put people's lives at risk so that you can go off half-cocked." (Ep. 4).

The Spielberg touch -- and everyone swears he's always "hands-on" -- seems to have lost its once firm grip. Or maybe in reality he's treating TV dismissively, rubber-stamping the directions his TV series are taking while still baby-sitting the films he directs. In the process he's become a veritable Jerry Bruckheimer, who's also been swinging and missing of late with one series failure after another. Namely NBC's Chase, CBS' Miami Medical, ABC's The Whole Truth, ABC's The Forgotten and TNT's Dark Blue.

Falling Skies ended its first season with Wyle's Mason agreeing to board the alien spaceship in hopes of talking the intruders into freeing his second oldest son, Ben (Connor Jessup), from any lasting effects from a "harness" that had been embedded into his spine in order to control him.

Sunday's first hour flashes back and forth from that time to three months later. And the flashbacks are well-played, thanks to a truly imposing alien overlord who communicates to Tom via Hal's abducted girlfriend, Karen.

Meanwhile, the resistors are still fighting their way through scads of alien "skitters," which look like giant slimy cast-offs from the old kids' tabletop game, Cootie. Ben has become especially bloodthirsty in this respect while his dad worries that he'll be consumed by hate. Given the overall quality of the written words here, one half-expects Tom to say, "Because then the terrorists have won." Instead he goes with a variation, telling young Ben that only love -- not hate -- kept him going for the past three months.

Falling Skies is very much in league with AMC's The Walking Dead in terms of presenting an apocalyptic future in which the remaining humans are constantly terrorized while fighting amongst themselves and always looking for safer havens. The visuals of Falling Skies are in league with those of Walking Dead. But the storylines and spoken words? Nuh-uh.

Episode 4 of Falling Skies exemplifies the series' strengths and weaknesses. There are gripping, chilling scenes of a new passel of children being held captive in an alien harness factory. It's quite a sequence, and not for the squeamish. Otherwise the episode boils down to a gratingly maudlin reunion of clench-jawed Capt. Weaver and his estranged daughter, Janie, who now has a new boyfriend and life. You'll deduce the denouement way ahead of time. Falling Skies holds few if any surprises, although its action scenes and impressively designed creatures still have pulling power.

The return of Falling Skies is a continuation of TNT's big splash summer, during which all eight of its scripted drama series are being rolled out.

Rizzoli & Aisles and Franklin & Bash re-arrived earlier this month. The new Dallas launched on Wednesday and the final season of The Closer begins on July 9th in tandem with the premiere of Perception, starring Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame. Major Crimes, a spinoff of The Closer, is set for an August 13th premiere and Season 5 of Leverage is coming on July 15th.

So TNT certainly is trying to make its mark. And whatever its faults, Falling Skies is eons better than most of the "reality" junk being spewed out this summer by the Big Four broadcast networks. Gawd, though, get me rewrite almost every time Capt. Weaver opens his mouth.

"Ah, it's just a scratch," he says of a nasty leg wound suffered in Episode 4. Ouch.