It’s Time To Bring Back DARK SKIES, The X-FILES Meets MAD MEN Show

Shout Factory is releasing the complete series DVD of the little-known, short-lived show DARK SKIES, and it got Devin thinking about how this is a property with a lot more promise left in it.

The only thing standing between humanity and the aliens is Majestic 12, but even that secret government group has their own motives. Our hero, John Loengard, and his wife, Kim Sayers, travel the country trying to stay one step ahead of MJ12 while foiling alien plans. Along the way they get mixed up in plenty of real 1960s history including the death of JFK, the American debut of the Beatles, meeting Howard Hughes, getting caught in the 1964 Alaska earthquake, the Watts riots and more.

To me Dark Skies is the perfect show to revisit, either as a rebooted TV series or as a film. The original series had great ideas but was very flawed in its execution; the budget never could match the show’s ambition. The way the show tied into history could be silly - at one point our heroes meet Jim Morrison when he was a film student - but that’s actually part of the fun. There’s an on-the-nose quality that made the whole thing feel like Forrest Gump vs the Aliens.

But there’s something more - the period setting allows Dark Skies to not only have fun with history but to also avoid being constrained by tech. The same concept set in the 21st century sees John and Kim tracked by satellites and photographed by ATM security cameras. The 60s - even a 60s with aliens in it - doesn’t have the kind of tech that makes fugitives too easy to catch. And as Mad Men has since proven, the fashion of the time looks great on TV.

The show had an incredibly ambitious plot outlined: the creators wanted to use each season to span a decade (season one began in ‘61 and ended in ‘67), and they wanted to bring the series right up to the millenium. I talked to series co-creator Bryce Zabel on the phone today and he would like to pick up the show where it left off and start a new take on Dark Skies at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots, but I think the series needs to be rebooted. Take it over from the top, especially since JT Walsh, one of the leads, passed away after the show was canceled and thus couldn’t come back.

Nobody saw Dark Skies, but that works in the favor of a reboot. The concept is strong and there isn’t a massive fanbase to worry about; you can take the best things that worked in the original and apply 2011 TV writing and directing to it, as well as 2011 visual effects. How amazing would a Dark Skies movie that goes from the beginning of the story to the Kennedy assassination be? It’s a franchise waiting to be reborn.

A rebirth also allows the mythology to be born fresh. The show’s biggest weak point, in my opinion, was the casting. Walsh was an inspired choice to play the man heading Majestic 12, but the other leads were… lacking. It almost seems like NBC wanted to hire a younger Mulder and Scully (and if you look at the DVD cover for the complete series you can see that there were plenty of photos taken to emphasize that). I think that the original show’s insistence on doing a decade a season leads to some rushed storytelling; the pilot just blows through a number of years in a way that’s kind of disorienting at times.

Zabel and his co-creator Brent V Friedman actually own the publishing rights to the characters introduced in the pilot - which is pretty much the main cast. I’m surprised that no one has tried to do a series of novels set in the Dark Skies universe - it just seems like a no-brainer. A period piece techno thriller about aliens impacting the course of history? I’m in. But I’d rather watch the story unfold on a screen, be it little or big.

Alien stories are back in a big way, but most of them seem to be about the big mothership hovering over the city. I think we’re ready for a return to good old fashioned paranoia, to stories about aliens who aren’t piloting their craft through Manhattan. That spectacle is fun for a while, but it gets old - especially on television. Maybe when Dark Skies hits DVD on January 18th someone will sit up and take notice of this killer concept just waiting to be rediscovered.