After the premiere of "Dallas" earlier this week, TNT is continuing its rollout of some of its biggest programming of the summer and next comes Sunday's season premiere of "Falling Skies." The post-alien invasion series which blends sci-fi elements with family and character drama, starts off three months after the season finale when our hero, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) stepped on board of the alien ship solely to find out how he might be able to save his son, Ben (Connor Jessup), who spent time in the aliens' capture and is now facing transitioning from human to alien.
Executive Producer Remi Aubuchon ("Caprica," "Persons Unknown") is on board the showrunner for the "Falling Skies" second season and sat down with our Jim Halterman to talk about how the show has evolved from first to second year, what Mason will face once he returns to Earth and how the writers have incorporated new characters into an already large cast.
Jim Halterman: Having watched the first few episodes of the second season - and not taking anything away from the first season - I felt like things were sharper and tighter.
Remi Aubuchon: Steven [Spielberg, Executive Producer] is very terse and concise in his direction and basically what he said was 'Look, I want you to amp up the second season.' And I think that what a lot of that comes from is us deciding that we've set the backdrop, we've established the foundation of the story now let's just go with it and I think you can feel that energy in the second season.
JH: Is there an overall theme for this season or do you not really think in those terms?
RA: There are. There are a few competing themes but... not competing. There are parallel things. I will say that part of what we really were entrusted in exploring is the sense of human resilience that when we're faced with challenges it actually makes us stronger. It makes us more determined. I really wanted to lay a lot of weight onto our characters and up the stakes. I hope at the end of the season we have a chance of surviving anything.
JH: Now you start three months later in season two.
JH: Why three months? Why was that the amount of time you decided?
RA: I will say that part of it is arbitrary. A lot of it was how much time can he spend on the ship and whatever, but I did want there to be some sort of time passage enough so that Tom's presence was missed by the Second Mass and that suddenly Captain Weaver (Will Patton) suddenly understood, because he's not a stupid man at all, what the loss of Tom meant. I think that somewhere in the middle of the first season if Tom Mason had died Captain Weaver would have been grateful for that to have happened but now he recognizes that Tom is actually an important component to the group.
JH: But I get the sense that some people are not happy Tom is back. Pope (Colin Cunningham) probably, and some other people.
RA: That's right. We don't have the time and the scope to explore everybody that's unhappy with Tom coming back. But I think Pope represents that faction that goes 'No, we were better off without him being there.'
JH: And the Tom we have back is... I don't want to use the word crippled but there are some problems there, some issues with him.
RA: That's right. I think what's fun about that story that bring up in particular is that the person that is the most concerned about that is Tom. He has a lot of self-doubt and even though he comes off that ship with a great resolve that these aliens have to be kicked off our fucking planet, he still has that lingering doubt as to whether or not he might accidentally be part of the aliens' plans, which I think makes for very interesting tension. Noah does a wonderful job of playing that.
JH: The family element of the show is what personally hooks me even though I love the sci-fi elements, too. But all the Mason boys are coming into being men and Ben in particular, I feel, is going to be the really interesting character this season. What can you tell me about him?
RA: There's a couple of things that are fun about that. That was Steven's really great, wonderful notion which is this is a family drama with a genre backdrop and I love that idea. And balancing that out is a challenge but I think at the core of every story that we tell there's an emotional base for it and it's really about human drama and we put a lot of fun science fiction stuff around it but ultimately it's that.
And the thing with Ben, which is very interesting, is how do you cope with a son that you realize is different? What do you do with it? That's a contemporary problem that we have or a challenge that we all have. The fact that Ben is attached somehow to the skinners? That he's got something going on with him? There's a wonderful moment where Tom suddenly sees Ben's back and how it's deformed and stuff and it just... as a father it's like 'how do I cope with that? How do I deal with that?' When I watch those scenes my heart is wrenched by that. And that you can't necessarily guide your child even through that journey. You can only hopefully just love them through it. And Tom deals with that quite a bit, especially with Ben.
JH: Will that going to be a big part as the season for Ben? His transitioning?
RA: Yes. Ben has a huge arch in this season.
JH: With Tom, Hal and Ben, so far they're on the same page for the most part but is there going to be a lot of conflict coming up between the three of them?
RA: Absolutely. And I will even say Matt (Maxim Knight), too, I think that that's one of the things that's fun about it. I didn't want to just do 'My Three Sons.' I wanted to make sure that it was hard for them. And Hal is established; the way he's dealt with the absence of his father for the last three months is that he's just taken control and charge and really proved himself to be quite a warrior. And Ben has gone through some crap and some stuff. And Matt is trying to keep up and trying to find his way and when suddenly the absent father returns and expects everything to be the same way again, conflict ensues.
JH: You have some new characters coming in, too. How do you construct that when you're going into season two and thinking 'okay, we need somebody who can represent this or somebody who can complicate this?'
RA: Well I had two objectives. One is I wanted to feel that there was a dynamic and changing of the Second Mass. That it's clear at the beginning that they suffered some huge losses and new characters come in. And I wanted audiences to get comfortable with the idea that there may be people in and out all the time. The characters we love may not survive and characters that we never knew existed suddenly come in and play an important part. I also wanted to give Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) a love interest and Brandon (Jay McLaren, who plays Jamil Dexter), by the way, is just a terrific actor and jumped into everything in this season so nicely. And it's almost hard for a lot of us to feel as if he wasn't part of the Second Mass right from the beginning. And that's really cool. He falls in really well.
JH: Have we seen the last of Karen (Jessy Schram)?
RA: Oh no. I'm not going to tell you how that happens, but no we haven't seen the last of Karen. Jessy is a wonderful actress. She's very fun and I can't imagine the show without her.
JH: Besides financials what's the benefit of shooting up in Vancouver?
RA: This is right now my third show in Vancouver and one of the things that Vancouver is wonderful about, which is why a lot of people shoot up there, is that the locations are incredibly varied and unique. Literally you can move a mile and there's a whole different place to be. And so I think that's one of the advantages of Vancouver. The only disadvantage is that it's cold up there a lot and we made the choice this season to be outdoors a lot so it was a challenge.
JH: Last question. For a lot of people who didn't jump into season one, do you think they can still dive in and catch up?
RA: I think so. I mean, certainly the first season is available in many different formats and venues for people to catch up to if they need to. But I don't think there's anything in the second season that you'll just go 'what? What's that about?' We make sure that you understand who the skinners are, we make sure that you understand who the overlords are. There's a few new surprises, alien surprises that show up during this season but I think it's not too hard to figure out who our characters are.
"Falling Skies" returns with a two-hour season premiere this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on TNT.