Signal Horizon

See Beyond

SXSW Review- The Man Who Fell To Earth- An Amazing Cast Breathes New Life Into Showtime’s Sequel Story

The original The Man Who Fell To Earth is not funny. There is nothing light about the novel by Walter Tevis or the 1976 adaption starring David Bowie. Showtime’s newest sequel of sorts strikes a precarious balance between black hole gravity and unexpectedly silly hijinks.

The Man Who Fell To Earth has always been a somber metaphor for sin, excess, and greed. It’s about a literal fall as much as a symbolic one, but Showtime’s version is somehow fun while maintaining the same gravitas as the original. This is largely due to a stellar cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a singular force as he bounces between a goofy fish out of water elasticity and a desperate singularly focused alien. However, you want to read that.

Every good science fiction story needs a quality flash forward to ground us in the stakes and make us want to watch. Our introduction to Ejiofor’s Farady is here. The slick TED talker speaking to a large auditorium of devoted fans is a tech God, and they are all there to worship at his silicon-chipped feet. Elijafor brings the same sly command that fans of his work in Serenity remember. Faraday could be the answer to our prayers or the cause of our demise. The only thing we know for certain is he is powerful. He begins to tell his story before the adoring crowd and warns them all of the rumors are true. This should be a clue it’s time to leave. Not the show, of course, the talk.

In the film Thomas Newton(David Bowie) is a larger-than-life character who is part angel part megalomaniac who falls from grace after meeting a waitress and being corrupted by fame, fortune, and vice. Showtime’s version installs Ejiofor as the lead. Faraday appears to have fallen into many of the same traps as Newton but without the addictions. Is he a savior or an exploiter we don’t fully know yet? But he is a far cry from the confused alien we meet next right after landing on Earth.

The reptilian alien from a faraway planet is here on Earth hoping to build a ship and bring water back to his hydration-lacking home. Evidently, very quickly, things go astray. There is no shortage of commentary about the immigrant experience, spectrum disorder difficulties, and systemic racism; however, most of it is touched on without diving too deep. This superficial glossing over of deeper issues will allow the show to have broad appeal while angering others who think an opportunity may have been wasted. There is still plenty of time for more weighty subject matter, with only the first two episodes airing at SXSW though. Like most genre entertainment, fantasy and wish fulfillment are easier to digest than tragedy and failings.

There’s a sweetness to Faraday in his early days, which the majority of the first two episodes focus on. It makes you wish whatever led the smooth talker to rise never happens. But, somehow, if we watch closely enough and hope hard enough, we can change the inevitable trajectory of this cautionary tale.

There are surprises. Showrunners Alex Kurtzman(Fringe and Star Trek Discovery) and Jenny Lumet(Clarice) take a slightly different path. Those familiar with the novel and movie will likely wonder at the direction for a second. However, Kurtzman and Lumet have more than a few aces up their sleeves. Their serialized drama continues the original story with new characters and plot beats but the same core sensibility. Just as Elijafor adapts to human life, the script pivots just as effortlessly from the source material into something that might be fun to watch instead of only captivating if depressing.

Ejiofor brings a gleeful goofiness to his confused and often very wrong alien that is shocking to see play against the polished egotistical maniac we meet in the opening. When we see Elijafor’s fall to Earth, he is found by police after stumbling onto an angry white dude’s property and sticking a massive hose down his throat. Most of the humor comes from Ejiofor, who works overtime stretching his chameleonic face into one ridiculous contortion after another. One particular bit very early with Martha Plimpton is comedy gold.

His partner, whether she knows it or not, is Justin Falls. Naomie Harris(Justin) is a disgraced scientist getting paid cash to clean up toxic messes from construction sites to pay for medication for her ailing father. She pays the local drug dealer for the prescription meds and tries to hold onto her home for her preteen daughter. Before finding herself in this situation, she worked on fusion power, which is why Faraday needs her. The Oscar winner is a good foil for Ejiofor, also an Oscar winner, who grounds his manic energy without stifling it.

The less than meet/cute in the police station continues more believably through circumstance and happenstance neither can ignore. He is an enigma and an annoyance but promises something she can’t say no to eventually. They both have life or death missions, and they are often not aligned, making for a nice tension I keenly felt.

The supporting cast is equally talented. Jimmi Simpson(Westworld) as Spencer Clay, a vicious outcasted CIA agent. He has some shady procedural work in his past and sees Faraday as a way back in. Clarke Peter’s Josiah is Justin’s father and is a triumph as a cranky voice of wisdom. He is fragile and spiritually strong in equal parts. His belief in Justin and eventually Faraday is unfailing. Bill Nighy plays the main character from the novel Thomas Newton and is deliciously deranged and alludes to the greater message.

Who knows how long The Man Who Fell To Earth can keep up the comedic square peg sequences, but we have a very clear through-line that leaves a lot of material to be explored. However, with a cast as good as this and so much meat left on the bone, there’s no reason to think they can’t sustain a solid series run.

The first two episodes of The Man Who Fell To Earth premiered at SXSW. Find all our coverage here.