SXSW 2022: The Man Who Fell to Earth – Season One, Dead on Arrival

There is no hope. Here is everything wrong with television repackaging old cult brands. Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 feature The Man Who Fell to Earth is a particular kind of cult classic. It gets by on the open-ended expansiveness of its ideas. It finds David Bowie as an eccentric and otherworldly cinematic presence, totally ephemeral. The ideas are so specific. Jonathan Glazer’s terrific Under the Skin (2013) understood them and elevated them. Nobody else has really come close. There are those two movies, that understand exactly how this kind of story needs to be told, and then a lot of missed opportunities, and a few peculiar horror movies that get close. The new Showtime program misses the point by a country mile. It’s so far beyond the point that it is an affront not only to Nicolas Roeg and David Bowie’s great contribution but to the potential of an audience. It thinks so disgustingly little of you.

More accurately, it does not think of you at all. It’s television for no one at all. It’s programming that wouldn’t be suitable if you had a stack of twenty televisions and were consuming all the world’s shows at once. You still shouldn’t see this absolutely reprehensible revisioning of a great movie. You should, of course, go and watch that great movie, instead. It offers so much. The more viewings you give it, the more you might find in its empty spaces, in its seemingly laconic but purposefully astute examination of what it means to be human and what it means not to be human. The new program isn’t so much not interested in those things. It’s more that it’s not interested in anything at all. It is a valueless void of nonsense, a puerile envisioning, an apocalypse for good taste, an abyss where good ideas go to die and wither into unwatchable television shows.

The first episode, “Hallo Spaceboy” (you don’t deserve to use the Bowie song that way, you thudding, obvious piece of disposable programming), is shockingly bad. It sets up a fine actor like Chiwetel Ejiofor for immediate failure. He plays the Bowie part. You’ll know from the first line reading that the show is immediately and desperately bad. By the last line reading of the episode, you’ll contemplate never engaging with Showtime again.

I am the king, tech god Willy Wonka, up to my gobstopper in secrets.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Faraday

That’s a real line. In a real television series. And it showcases the harrowing incompetence of the script. Within the first two episodes, it gets nothing right at all. It gets more reprehensible than simply being badly written. Not once but several times, characters remark that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Faraday must be on the autism spectrum. Because he’s just so alien and so other, that it must be a mark of autism. Frankly, it’s an ugly and stereotypical idea for such a show to propagate. The way it’s handled makes us marvel that anyone put eyes on the script or thought the execution of this idea was fine.

Less cautionary are its other terrible ideas. There is no flow to the movement between ideas. The plot sinks immediately like a stone. Even good actors cannot save purposeless televisual sludge. Chiwetel Ejiofor is paired with Naomie Harris and both are trying. Bill Nighy is also trying and can’t save it. The plot awkwardly careens around the arrival of our alien just as mankind is entering a new phase of evolution. It meanders across the first two episodes and never finds anything worth exploring. There is no depth. There is nothing to hang onto whatsoever, even when it blandly insists on CG. It’s all empty storytelling told for nobody at all.

Only the first two episodes were provided for the festival. It’s a blessing because the show will never improve. There is no possibility whatsoever of honoring the origin movie left in it. The actors have little to be embarrassed about. They’re just in a terrible series. Its producers and directors, however, may want to have a long hard think about whether they should ever touch another interesting brand. This is the detritus of television. The destruction of our few remaining relics of genius creators collaborating in a fascinating form without many parallels. The worst thing about that original movie is it’s now anchored to this abysmal television show.


  • Review based on Episodes 1 & 2

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