Review of 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' 1.1
Great Provenance and Excellent Start
The Man Who Fell to Earth, which debuted last night on Showtime as a ten-episode television series, has a long and distinguished history. The novel of the same name by Walter Tevis was published in 1963 to critical acclaim. I didn't read it, because I had just switched as a teenager by then from science fiction to rock music as my passion, and I didn't go back to science fiction until a few decades years later -- Philip K. Dick's 1962 The Man in the High Castle had made it just under wire. Meanwhile, The Man Who Fell to Earth was made into 1976 movie starring David Bowie which I saw and loved, and which also received critical acclaim. A 1987 made-for-television movie followed which I'm pretty sure I didn't see, and certainly can't remember. A now this new Showtime series.
I just saw the first episode and really liked it. In addition to the multiple provenance of the story from the novel, this new series also has echoes of the superb 1984 movie Starman starring Jeff Bridges and the also superb movie, also from 1984, The Brother from Another Planet starring Joe Morton. So, to be clear, saying that the first episode of this new series is reminiscent of those two great movies is high praise indeed. Both movies have lots of humor, poking fun at the mores of the day, and the new Man Who Fell to Earth looks to have plenty of the same. Both movies also have some serious punchlines, and it looks like the new series has those, too. And, like The Brother from Another Planet, this Man Who Fell to the Earth is Black, and his initiation into the culture of our planet will be mainly through people of color in the United States.
Like all of these other narratives, this visitor from a distant planet is both very bright and mostly clueless about our customs here on Earth. We may or may not find out the reason for this cluelessness during the series -- usually, it's some variation of the crisis was so severe on that planet far out into space, that the visitor and/or his people didn't have time to properly research us. (If the scientists on this other planet had submitted their plan for Earth to an academic journal, it would probably wouldn't have passed peer review.) The new series begins with the visitor addressing an assembled group of dignitaries or whomever, speaking in perfect English (he's a quick learner), strutting around like some kind of combination of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, with flashbacks to the time he first got here. I think this kind of flashback approach is overdone in narratives these days, and the story would have been better off if told in real sequence, but that's ok.
I thought Chiwetel Ejiofor was excellent as the man who fell, as was Naomie Harris as the woman who reluctantly helps him but you know that will be much more, and it's too soon to tell about everyone else. But I'll definitely be back here next week and after to tell you what I think of the ensuing episodes.
About the author
Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; his LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up. His nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge, & Digital McLuhan have been translated into 15 languages.