Cult TV of the Week: Dark Skies
NBC's answer to "The X-Files" ended after a year but found a passionate following
"My name is John Loengard and I'm recording this because we may not live through the night. They're here, they're hostile and powerful people don't want you to know. History as we know it is a lie."
I never saw "Dark Skies" when it ran on NBC during the 1996-1997 TV season and I can't say I was exactly wowed by the DVD, but this grand conspiracy show did earn itself fans and Shout! Factory—the best friend to lovers of cult, kitsch and terminally cool TV—has done them a real service with this set.
Set in the sixties, it opens on the sunny hope and promise of John F. Kennedy's Camelot and then proceeds to dismantle the optimism and idealism by rewriting the dark chapters of American history as a vast conspiracy to cover up the alien invasion of Earth.
The enemy: "The Hive," a web of aliens in human guise who have infiltrated government and business to manipulate events and concoct experiments to pave the way for conquering humankind. The defense: a covert government program called Majestic that is almost as dangerous as the enemy. Our narrator/hero, idealistic congressional aide John Loengard (Eric Close), is initially recruited by Majestic leader Capt. Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh) but rejects the secrecy and the tactics and decides to reveal all to President Kennedy.
By the end of the two-part pilot episode, Majestic has assassinated the President and framed a patsy, John's fiancée, Kimberly (Megan Ward), has been abducted (and subsequently released) by aliens and this cute, spunky couple go on the run to investigate the conspiracy on their own. Jeri Ryan (billed as Jeri Lynn Ryan) joins the cast halfway through the season as a particularly zealous Majestic agent who turns out to be a wild card more sympathetic to John and Kimberly's odyssey than Majestic's agenda.
Every major historical flashpoint of the sixties—from the Warren Commission and the murder of the Civil Rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 to the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Watts Riots—are tangled up in UFOlogy in this show. Even the landmark appearance by The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" is worked into the conspiracy and such figures as Howard Hughes, Carl Sagan and Timothy Leary become players in the drama. Which gives the show more texture than dramatic credibility as it weaves its conspiracy through American History 101. This instant cult artifact is intriguing and entertaining but not as unsettling, paranoid or clever as "The X-Files," which managed to balance the creepily serious with the darkly comic in a way this show never manages, or really even attempts to. The creators sketched out a five-season arc that would take the series from the sixties to the present but the show was cancelled after the first season. Given that, the producers were able to provide at least a modicum of dramatic closure by season's end.
19 episodes (including the feature-length pilot) on six discs in a box set of three thinpak cases, with cast and creator commentary on the series pilot and finale and the 54-minute retrospective documentary "Signal to Noise: Uncovering Dark Skies," with creators Bryce Zabel and Brent V. Friedman and stars Eric Close and Megan Ward discussing the creation and development of the series. Also includes the international cut of the pilot episode, a series glossary, the original sales promo and a proposal for the second season among the supplements.
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