TV Review - Childhood's End

SyFy did a three-part miniseries, each part two hours long. The miniseries ran over three nights starting on December 14. It was adapted from Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 novel of the same name. Clarke is famous for being the author behind Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The story involves an alien invasion that seemingly creates a Utopian society. We then follow a group of characters over the course of about 100 years.

The adaptation is somewhere between the film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and the TV series V (2009). It's less of a critique of culture or world politics. It's less of a warning than what the 1951 film was. It's slightly more hopeful. It's somewhat insightful. It's not as cynical as V, but it tries to be as anxious as the 2009 series, echoing anxieties from alien invasion tales on global scales, going back to The Twilight Zone and its episode "To Serve Man" in 1962.

Mike Vogel (Under the Dome and Bates Motel) stars as Ricky Stormgren, a farmer in Missouri. He's a handsome, fair-haired, corn-fed widower who has a girlfriend and a dog. He bears witness, along with everyone else, to an alien invasion similar to the one depicted in V. A series of large, space ships hover over 40 cities.

The leader of these space ships is an alien named Karellen, played by Charles Dance. By the way, Klaatu was the name of the alien leader from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Karellen is the Klaatu of this story, but Klaatu did most of the leg work himself. Karellen doesn't. Instead, Karellen asks Ricky to be his ambassador or basically the go-between or spokesperson for the alien invasion or visitation, as it were.

Before this happens, Karellen exhibits the ability to communicate telepathically to all human beings. His initial trick is to make every human on Earth hear his message but as delivered to someone every human has known and loved but who has died. It never makes sense why Karellen just continues to do this, instead of employing Ricky in the way he does.

Ricky is taken up into Karellen's space ship where he has regular conversations with Karellen. Karellen tells Ricky that like in the TV series V, the aliens want to use advanced technology to help solve the Earth's problems, like ending war, ending disease, ending famine and ending climate change. A lot of people worry there's an ulterior motive or it will come at a terrible price.

It takes some time, but eventually the nations of the world go along with the aliens and a Utopia is created. Some of the tactics are a bit questionable. If someone breaks the rules, the aliens have swift and brutal consequences.

It's similar to the threat made by Klaatu at the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It's peace at the barrel of a gun. Star Trek: The Next Generation did an episode called "Justice" and the series Wayward Pines was also about a Utopian society being created but doing so under the threat of extreme punishments. Yet, there's only one brief scene that explores the new, alien, justice system. More would have been appreciated.

The show rightfully addresses the issue of religion as it relates to the open, global knowledge of alien existence. Yet, it never asks the hard-hitting questions. Yael Stone (Orange is the New Black) co-stars as Peretta Jones, a woman of faith, who is in this narrative and could have been that person constantly asking or addressing the hard-hitting questions. The show almost wants her to be that but doesn't go far enough with her. It also would have been interesting to get the position of the Vatican or how fundamental Islamists feel or think about the alien situation.

Osy Ikhile co-stars as Milo, a young scientist who tries to push to get further answers from the aliens but keeps hitting a brick wall. It's a wonder why he never goes to visit Ricky given his need for answers. He's like Matt Dillon's character in Wayward Pines, but Dillon's character is more of an active presence than Ikhile.

The character design and visual effect of Karellen on screen is pretty well done, but, despite all the conversations with him, I never thought I really got a good sense of Karellen. He might as well have been one of those green aliens from The Simpsons.

The series devotes a huge chunk to showing the next generation and the effect of this alien presence is having on the children, but instead of having the children stand around and look blankly, there could have been true exploration. Supposedly, the children are evolving, but no sense of what's happening or where it's going is ever really conveyed. By the end, it seems as if there's nothing different here from any plot that results in destroying the world. If there was something smarter or more profound to be had here, it doesn't come through.

I mentioned Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you want to watch something that addresses a lot of the same issues and themes here, go check out that sci-fi series. Particularly, check out the episodes, "Transfigurations" or "Nth Degree." This series doesn't do it.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 2 hrs. / 3 episodes


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