Last year, Steven Spielberg produced two science fiction fantasies for television, “Terra Nova” and “Falling Skies.” ‘‘Nova,” the more anticipated and expensive of the two, fell by the wayside while the enormously popular “Falling Skies” (8 p.m., TNT) is now entering its second season.
For the uninitiated, “Skies” follows a ragtag army of human survivors mounting a tenacious insurgency against a cruel, technologically superior alien force. There are special-effects depictions of spaceships and critters, but the real joy of “Skies” is its inventive, old-school way of using locations to evoke a sense of doom. Toss a few burned-out cars around an abandoned strip mall and you’re halfway to creating an end-of-the-world atmosphere.
Noah Wyle stars as Tom Mason, a former college history professor turned rebel-patriot. His knowledge of military and diplomatic history as well as the show’s Boston-area setting connects these freedom fighters to the men of Lexington and Concord.
Like the classic 1950s sci-fi movies that clearly inspired Spielberg, “Falling Skies” can be appreciated on several levels. On the surface, it’s a shoot-em-up thrill ride. But dig deeper and you reach undercurrents of popular dread.
• Speaking of thriving on basic cable, “Longmire” (9 p.m., A&E;) debuted two weeks ago as the most watched launch of a scripted series on cable this year. And its audience grew in its second week. This police procedural set in Big Sky Country will never win awards for originality or complexity. And that may be central to its appeal. At a time when some networks have doubled down on fantasy series (“Game of Thrones,” ‘‘True Blood”) with baffling sets of rules and character relationships that require a flow chart to follow, “Longmire” celebrates the simple appeal of the taciturn Western hero.
Sunday’s other highlights
• 2012 U.S. Open Golf Championship (3 p.m., NBC).
• Repeat stories and updates scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): insider trading in Congress, one university’s success in math and science, a profile of Taylor Swift.
• The Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals (7 p.m., ABC).
• The case seems closed on the season finale of “The Killing” (8 p.m., AMC).
• “Forensic Firsts” (8 p.m., Smithsonian) surveys 50 years in the evolving technology — from ballistics to DNA science — that aids police detectives as they find the bad guys.