Summer hasn’t begun, but get ready for a new summer hit. “Falling Skies” (8 p.m., TNT) arrives with a two-hour pilot directed by Carl Franklin (”One False Move”). A combination of “War of the Worlds” and “Red Dawn,” this Steven Spielberg-produced thriller gets right to the point and never lets up.
“Skies” begins after aliens have invaded Earth, destroyed man’s military, destroyed or invaded most cities, killed most adults and begun taking over the planet’s young humans by attaching creepy bug-like creatures to their spines.
This complicated backstory is explained in about three minutes using a child’s classroom voiceover, accompanied by children’s drawings of the recent invasion, carnage and tragedy.
The classroom is run by the Massachusetts Second, a ragtag group of rebels commanded by hard-boiled Captain Weaver (Will Patton) and the thoughtful Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a former history professor who’s on hand to remind us that the fighting takes place on some of the same ground as the early battles of the American Revolution.
Like Ann Glass (Moon Bloodgood), the resident physician, Tom has lost a spouse and a child to the invasion. His teenage son Hal (Drew Roy) has joined the insurgency, while 8-year-old Matt (Maxim Knight) still pines for the days of birthday parties and normalcy. But even Matt knows that the alien critters are out to put a bug on his spine and turn him into some kind of traitor/zombie, lost to the human cause.
Like the best sci-fi and war movies, “Skies” has a low-budget feel. Scenes involving the monstrous aliens are few but effective. We aren’t bludgeoned with special effects.
The struggle here is basic, blunt and brutal. This is our land and they want to take it. And the task is to kill them, or at least enough of them so they decide to go home and leave us alone.
The show and its hero Tom Mason betray only one moment of doubt. That’s when the professor explains his Revolutionary War theory to a rogue outlaw (Colin Cunningham), who then challenges Mason with an analogy all his own. Perhaps, he suggests, the humans aren’t the irregular rebels of Bunker Hill at all. They just might be America’s native population, driven to near-extinction by an invasion of people who never failed to think of themselves as the good guys.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Wayne Brady hosts the 38th annual Daytime Emmy Awards (7 p.m., CBS).
• David Suchet returns to his signature role on “Poirot XI: Three Act Tragedy” on “Masterpiece Mystery!” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings).
• The 35th annual AFI Life Achievement Award (8 p.m., TV Land) salutes Morgan Freeman.
• Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic host the 2011 Miss USA Pageant (8 p.m., NBC).
• A new king emerges in the north on the season finale of “Game of Thrones” (8 p.m., HBO).
• Evidence connects the campaign and the murder on the season finale of “The Killing” (9 p.m., AMC).
• Davis feels overshadowed by his protege on “Treme” (9 p.m., HBO).
• A famous father and daughter try to reconcile, on camera, on “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals” (9 p.m., OWN).