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DIRECTED BY: Alex Kurtzman, Sarah Harding, Joss Agnew, Olatunde Osunsanmi
PLOT: After the events of the movie of the same title, Thomas Jerome Newton (Bill Nighy), still alive and in hiding, summons another visitor from the planet Anthea, Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to find a physicist, Justin ‘Jessie’ Falls (Naomie Harris) and enlist her help to finish the task Newton could not: save their dying race. However, government agents Spencer Clay (Jimmi Simpson) and his handler Drew Finch (Kate Mulgrew) notice Faraday’s arrival and attempt to capture both aliens for their own ends.
COMMENTS: In my earlier review of the “12 Monkeys” TV series, I mentioned that the main problem in adapting movies to television shows is forging their own identity while also (hopefully) respecting the source material. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” series is based on the Walter Tevis novel but (mostly) on the 1976 Nicolas Roeg adaptation with starring. So the question becomes, where do you go from here?
Several things stand in the way of success—the main and most obvious one being that the Thin White Duke is not in the room, although his presence is felt. Another hurdle, in my view, is Alex Kurtzman, who both in tandem with his ex-writing partner Roberto Orci and flying solo, has heightened the douchery factor of most of his projects (“Hawaii Five-O”, “Star Trek”/Nu-Trek). Not to malign the production value or pedigree of actors involved in those shows, which range from excellent to good. It’s when it comes to story that Kutzman’s projects shit the bed consistently.
In this instance, Kurtzman (who also directs the first four episodes) is credited as co-creator/writer along with writing/producing partner Jenny Lumet. Their approach to the show is not as a remake of the movie, but as a continuation of the events in the book/film. The series starts with Faraday presiding over a presentation that strongly resembles an Apple Corp. product unveiling, then flashes back to his arrival on Earth. Subsequent episodes follow the journey of Faraday to this moment.
The other notable approach to the story is that this iteration is more diverse in its casting (in addition to Ejiofor and Harris, the main cast includes Clarke Peters as Falls’ dying father Josiah and Annelle Olaleye as Molly Falls, Justin’s daughter) and its storytelling. This supports the material instead of being a gimmick. The series touches on current issues like climate change, immigration, the machinations of tech companies, and the treatment of the aged. Clever touches include subtle callbacks to iconic scenes from the film and episodes titled after Bowie songs. There are, of course, deviations from the book/film—the main one being that this Man allows for more hope. As Faraday tells a character who fears the chaos that a patent would create if realized, “Chaos is why humans exist. You rise and you adapt. This is the next step.”. This optimism is a breath of fresh air compared with the endless dystopian variations presented as entertainment over the last decade or so.
“Man” was not picked up for a second season—but it didn’t need to be. “Mini-series” or “limited-series” appear to be forbidden words in today’s television landscape, but ten episodes were plenty of time to tell this tale, and to end on just the right note.
The show was originally broadcast on the Showtime networks and can be streamed on Apple TV or viewed on DVD and Blu-ray.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“… absent of the original film’s pensive, oddly seductive magnetism and Roeg’s experimental flourishes, Showtime’s The Man Who Fell to Earth feels frustratingly earthbound. Where’s a space oddity when you need one?”–Will Ashton, Slant (contemporneous)