“The Man Who Fell to Earth” ambitiously picks up where the sci-fi cult classic’s mission left off.

In the 1976 film classic “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” David Bowie’s iconic alien Thomas Jerome Newton blends easily with humanity. He wanders through a small town in Kentucky, lies down on a bench outside an antique store and waits for it to open. Once he does, he sells a gold wedding ring and is on his way.

Forty-five years later, another alien from Newton’s home planet crash lands on Earth, this time in New Mexico. But his entrance is not so smooth. Newton arrives fully clothed and elegant, while this alien, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, stumbles out fully naked and desperately thirsty. It is not long before he is electrocuted, arrested and beaten.

And while Newton speaks impeccable English with a British accent, Ejiofor’s interstellar traveler, who takes the name Faraday from a policeman he meets (Martha Plimpton, in a brief appearance), learns human languages ​​on the fly, as well as how to walk properly. , how to get excited, how to be traversed by this middle, strange world that, like yours, is dying.

Faraday is anxious about time, fearing that there won’t be enough for his people or humanity. Watching all four episodes of Showtime’s TV sequel to “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” I wondered about that, too.

RELATED: “There is no generic Africa”: Chiwetel Ejiofor fell in love with Malawi for his directorial debut

“I am an immigrant, a refugee. To survive, I had to be reborn.”

The series draws on Walter Tevis’s 1963 novel and Nicolas Roeg’s artistic film adaptation to expand on the film’s commentary on the danger of materialism and alcoholism to emphasize its themes of environmental degradation and the immigrant’s sense of alienation, no pun.

But in 2022, the fantasy that Thomas Jerome Newton enacted decades ago is our reality, embodied in polarizing figures like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, men who offer humanity convenience and distraction, promising wonders in exchange for the massive wealth it needs to survive. build a world. spaceship to get us out of here. Faraday will become one of these figures, set in an opening scene that shows him casting a spell on an auditorium full of believers with the promise of finally telling his story, TED Talk-style.

“I am an immigrant, a refugee. To survive, I had to be reborn,” Faraday tells his rapt audience. Newton walked the same path, but was caught by the CIA before he could board his spaceship and return home. The company Newton built seemingly overnight, World Enterprises Corporation, still exists, and somewhere on Earth, so does he. in the guise of Bill Nighy).

That’s a lot of ground to cover in 10 episodes, and the opening hours take their time establishing Faraday’s identity, showcasing Ejiofor’s uncanny expressive prowess. This is a deluxe series co-creator Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman that Roeg didn’t have in Bowie, who later admitted that he was playing a version of himself in coke throughout production.

Ejiofor, by contrast, credibly evolves Faraday from a wide-eyed, mouth-breathing newborn to a toddler who learns to speak English, albeit haltingly, in a matter of hours and Farsi (presumably alongside with any other language) in days, and who also vomits his way out of scratches. It’s an incredible performance filled with tenderness, humor, and the requisite level of weirdness one would expect from being thrust into an unknown place.

It’s an incredible performance filled with tenderness, humor and just the right level of weirdness.

And his effort keeps the space ready for the other parts of the story to come together and resolve before falling into place, hence the concern about proper timing. The drama begins with a game of stories; Faraday and Naomie Harris’ underemployed scientific genius Justin Falls drive the main plot, but they’re just the cutting edge.

Justin, once a shining star at MIT, hit a roadblock that halted his career when his attempts at cold fusion failed. When Faraday finds her, she’s barely doing toxic housekeeping work to support her daughter Molly (Annelle Olaleye) and her elderly, sickly father Josiah (Clarke Peters), another former scientist whose career was once promising. She thinks the shot of her has passed. . . until Faraday convinces her that she may be the only person in the world who can help him build a power generator that could save both her planet and ours.

Naomie Harris and Chiwetel Ejiofor in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (Aimee Spinks/SHOWTIME)

Before that happens, he has to persuade her to believe him and her own abilities again, and getting to that point in the first two hours can be frustrating. But Ejiofor and Harris find their groove, aided by the always magnificent Peters, and in the third episode they get off the ground.

It’s impossible to fully appreciate the creative challenges being taken on by Lumet and Kurtzman and fellow showrunner John Hlavin. Any director who comes after Roeg is asking for his work to be compared to his seductive and otherworldly visual style; Kurtzman, who directs these opening episodes, chooses to pay tribute while applying his own signatures, recognizable to viewers from his “Star Trek” and “Fringe” films, which he co-created (and featuring his own version of Thomas Jerome Newton). .

(And to answer an obvious question, you don’t have to have seen the 1976 movie to understand the series. But those who watch it before diving into this modern version will be rewarded by noticing the details and roles introduced for the first time.) there that reappear here. )


Want a daily roundup of all the news and reviews Salon has to offer? Sign up for our morning newsletter, Crash Course.


Kurtzman draws on television’s long history of aliens living among us to rely on the audience’s fondness for the medium’s own version of the weird; we’ve seen this story before in the form of “Roswell,” “Alien Nation,” several episodes of “The X-Files,” not to mention countless beloved sitcoms. He uses auditory and visual augmentations approaching Lynchian weirdness and, combined with Ejiofor’s elastic performance and Harris’s anxious static, exemplifies the vertigo of Faraday’s search for the viewer, along with his and hers’ loneliness. Justin.

All this happens before we meet the rest of the players, discover their stories and motivations; as we said, there are other people and plots that want to work with Faraday, exploit him or stop him, permanently.

Jimmi Simpson adds another hair-raising adversary to his repertoire as a psychologically volatile government agent recruited by his mentor (Kate Mulgrew) to track down Faraday in order to find the frustratingly elusive Newton. The balance of Simpson’s wacky personality is Rob Delaney’s Hatch Flood, the expelled brother of the woman currently in charge of World Enterprises, Edie Flood (Sonya Cassidy). Delaney and Cassidy are fabulous as rival sisters, with Delaney’s Hatch taking on the sad role of the wise loser everyone ignores.

Bill Nighy in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (Aimee Spinks/SHOWTIME)Faraday is introduced to a range of humanity, while Nighy, who resurrects Bowie’s character as a disillusioned alcoholic yet retains his serpentine style, offers his own experience as a warning against getting too close. He reclaims Newton in the same way that the series has its right to continue what Tevis and Roeg began, acknowledging how intimately the legendary artist was associated with the role of the astronaut while offering his own rock-star poise as a counterpoint.

It’s very clear that the creators of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” aren’t trying to rewrite or leave behind the film’s legacy. They are simply picking up the thread and shooting it out to amplify its power like a parabola; several, actually, about our climate crisis, race, immigration, and that existential sci-fi staple, what it means to be human. There’s no telling if this season will land without a hitch or if, in fact, the story has enough fuel to extend the ride beyond its currently allotted hours. But his confident performances are enough to make us want to see where this mission leads.

“The Man Who Fell to Earth” debuts Sunday, April 24 at 10 pm on Showtime. Watch a trailer below, via YouTube.

More stories like this:

Leave a Comment