The first two episodes of the new TV series The Man Who Fell to Earth premiered at the 2022 SXSW Conference. SXSW, which began in 1987, returned this year to live presentations after two years of virtual-only events. Taking place in Austin, March 11-20, it celebrated music, film, comedy, and the interaction of culture and technology, with participants from around the world.
The Man Who Fell to Earth was inspired by the iconic 1976 film starring David Bowie, which was based on a novel by Walter Tevis. Tevis novels have also been adapted into the recent hit, The Queen’s Gambit, and the classic Paul Newman films The Hustler and The Color of Money.
With such a strong background to build on, I expected a lot from this new episodic. I was not disappointed.
It’s common to bemoan the almost overwhelming Hollywood preference for remakes and sequels. This new effort does not deserve to be classified as “just another sequel.” It moves the story forward in creative and contemporary ways.
The new series takes place 45 years after the movie ended. A second alien has fallen to earth. The mission of David Bowie’s character, Thomas Newton, still incomplete, now belongs to the new intergalactic visitor, Faraday, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave).
Instead of England, Faraday lands in Arizona. And, to make things more challenging, he’s Black. Lucky for him, one of the first Earthlings he encounters is also Black – Justin, played by Naomie Harris (No Time to Die). Justin initially takes Faraday for some kind of mentally challenged weirdo – but she has her own problems. They eventually begin to communicate.
The performances by Harris and Ejiofor are amazing. You almost immediately begin to feel sympathy for their characters.
Ejiofor’s Faraday has to grow a new skin, learn to walk like a human, and figure out English.
Harris’s Justin not only has to deal with this strange new man, she’s also a single mom, taking care of her aging father, and has an employer no one would ever want to work for.
Also providing impressive performances in the first two episodes are Bill Nighy, as the 45-years-older Thomas Newton, and Jimi Simpson as Spencer Clay. Just my guess as this point, but Clay may turn out to be the bad guy. He harasses a waitress and kills a butterfly for no reason.
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
Yes, “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” is the title of a David Bowie song. It’s also the name of the first episode of the new series. In fact, every episode shares a title with a Bowie song. This bit of cuteness is just one of the great things to come out of the creative team putting together the series.
After the two episodes screened, the team shared their thoughts with the SXSW audience. Taking the stage were showrunner/director/writer Alex Kurtzman, writer Jenny Lumet, writer John Hlavin, and actors Naomie Harris, Jimmi Simpson, and Bill Nighy.
The actors expressed a great deal of seriousness and dedication to their roles.
Naomie Harris had high praise for series star Chiwetel Ejiofor. “He’s incredibly cerebral and he loves to rehearse and discuss every scene,” she explained. “I’m the complete opposite and like to just jump in, but I think that it ultimately works because our characters also come from such opposite worlds.”
Bill Nighy spoke about playing the character originated by David Bowie: “I didn’t feel like I was filling in his shoes because I’m not David Bowie. I met him a couple of times. When he passed it was a great shock. I wanted to honor him and honor his performance, so I just tried to do it the best that I could.”
The Loneliest Guy
Writer Jenny Lumet pointed to loneliness as a theme. “We’re writing a show about the three loneliest people who ever lived on any planet, but it also addresses current issues.” She noted that Kurtzman had begun writing the series before COVID, but when the pandemic hit, it gave them new insights.
Showrunner Alex Kurtzman knows sci-fi. He has over 100 episodes of Star Trek under his belt and has worked on, among many other shows, Sleepy Hollow, Limitless, and Transformers Prime. He observed, “This is the thing that I have done that feels most rounded. This time Jenny and John and I had the time to think though everything. We sort of shared a soul the whole time. I pushed this most as a family film, and being able to do that, and put the science fiction in service of that, is where I wanted to be.”
The quality of the series is suggested by the fact that it was originally scheduled for HULU, then Paramount+, and finally upgraded to Showtime. It premieres there on April 24. You can watch a trailer below.