Saturday, January 12, 2019

Pilot Review: Project Blue Book

Project Blue Book (History)
Premiered January 8 at 10pm

There are a lot of shows that live strictly in the realm of facts and proven reality, and others that exist wholly within the sphere of science fiction and the supernatural. This is a rare hybrid, one that deals directly with the unknown, tasking its central characters with the burden of demonstrating that the unexplainable does in fact have a way of being rationalized. To me, it’s incredibly reminiscent of “Manhattan,” the WGN America show from a few years ago that dealt with the New Mexico-based nuclear bomb testing site, where it felt like all of the characters were living in their own purposely-created bubble that was different from the rest of the world. Here, we have a scientist who is clearly well ahead of anyone in the military in terms of his research, casually coining the term UFO when others would use more clunky and less accurate language. Calling the San Diego radio station to confirm that they were in fact playing the song that he heard at that time helped to mystify the situation, showing him that there had to be some truth to what he experienced, and maybe reading him in will help clarify what actually happened. Aiden Gillen, best known for playing the duplicitous Petyr Baelish on “Game of Thrones,” does a decent job as Dr. Hynek, and while Neal McDonough is always terrific in anything he’s in, this is hardly the kind of part worthy of his talents. I also recognized Robert John Burke from “Rescue Me” and Michael J. Harney from “Orange is the New Black” in small roles in the supporting cast, and Laura Mennell from “The Man in the High Castle” as Dr. Hynek’s wife. If I wanted something like a less sci-fi-oriented version of “The X-Files,” I might keep watching, but this predictable pilot didn’t really lure me in.

How will it work as a series? Focusing on the concurrent history, like Hollywood producing films about how alien invasions might look, is a compelling way to anchor this show, and the notion that it’s based on true events that might still not be totally comprehensible could also help give it an appeal to viewers both familiar and new to the network formerly known as the History Channel.
How long will it last? Both reviews and ratings seemed to be fine, though neither was particularly strong. The question is whether people want to watch this kind of fare and if this is what History, a network that has long produced both unscripted and scripted programming, wants to be showing going forward that isn’t as tethered to its earlier period origins and more to this kind of genre-bending mystery. I imagine it can last a few seasons.

Pilot grade: B-

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