Forgotten Fandoms: Dark Skies

Dark Skies © NBC
Dark Skies © NBC

Welcome to Forgotten Fandoms, a new GeekMom series in which I hope to introduce you to TV shows (and more) that you’ve forgotten ever existed – or never heard about in the first place. This isn’t the place for shows everyone’s heard of but never got around to watching; it’s for the lost and forgotten gems totally deserving of a second look. I’m kicking off with the 1996 conspiracy drama, Dark Skies.

Dark Skies aired at a time when The X-Files was riding a wave of unprecedented worldwide popularity and every television network was scrambling to produce its own government/alien conspiracy show. Even Disney joined in. Set in the 1960s, the show follows John Loengard and his girlfriend Kimberly Sayers as they move to Washington DC and rapidly (astonishingly rapidly) become involved in the government’s ongoing alien cover-up. In the pilot episode, John begins working as a Congressman’s aide on Capitol Hill but he soon finds himself a member of the secretive Majestic group, a covert agency covering up the existence of aliens on Earth.

John becomes disenchanted with Majestic when Kimberly is abducted by an alien species.
Known as The Hive, they are taking over the human race by implanting crustacean-like “ganglions” into human brains. John saves Kim, performs an “A.R.T” to remove the ganglion, and the two leave Majestic, vowing to make the truth about the alien plot public. Subsequent episodes follow John and Kimberly as they criss-cross America hunting for physical evidence and trying to uncover more details about the alien plot, often finding themselves working alongside Majestic to foil the Hive’s latest scheme.

The show is noticeably similar to the genre’s Patient Zero – The X-Files in everything from the looks of the two protagonists to the music, which although composed by Michael Hoenig is undeniably similar to Mark Snow’s distinctive style. (Snow actually composed a suite for the show’s soundtrack album, the music only appeared on the pilot that aired in the UK.)

You’ll get to see most of the usual government conspiracy tropes here: black ops helicopters, mysterious men in black roughing up those who ask too many questions, Area 51, and secret alien research being conducted inside US and Russian military bases.

One area in which Dark Skies steps away from The X-Files is with the visual appearance of the aliens. While The X-Files barely even hinted at them visually, Dark Skies shows off aliens and UFOs in all their mid-90s special effect glory. This has the effect of turning what could be a fairly dark, even depressing show into slightly lighter fare as you watch an alien puppet waving its long, spindly arms at a woman in a frilly nightgown. The show did gradually become more serious as it progressed but there was always a level of cheesiness that permeated it, preventing it from becoming too morbid.

The So-Called "Loengard Letter" © Unknown origin, found in the Dark Skies "Bible"
The “Loengard Letter” © Unknown Origin

A small number of individuals believe that the show was created in response to the Loengard Letter which formed part of the show’s pitch to NBC. Written by a real man calling himself John Loengard, the letter demanded that the creators pitch his story under “the cover of fiction” to get the truth about the alien invasion out to the world. Some supposedly classified documents have been “leaked” online along with a “wiretap” from 2010 that reportedly has the real Loengard talking to the show’s producers about bringing the show back to “finish what they started.”

It is almost certain that this was part of a viral campaign for the DVD release in 2011, but several people claim to have seen evidence to the contrary and say that the network has helped cover it up.

From the UFO conspiracy theorist perspective, the show stays true to many long-standing theories held in the real world. Majestic 12 and Project Blue Book both play roles in the show, and Dark Skies ties in other real world events that some believe were connected to the US government’s UFO cover-up programme, most notably the assassination of President Kennedy and the Roswell crash. As a result, the show manages a level of believability that would otherwise be totally negated by its frequent use of cheesy special effects and unlikely situations.

As well as historic events that are often linked to conspiracy theories, the show uses dozens of other events from US history: everything from the space programme to the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake to the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Stock footage plays a strong part in each episode turning many episodes into entertaining history lessons.

I found myself googling Howard Hughes after he made an appearance, as I didn’t know much about him. Many famous faces from the 60s make appearances such as Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger, and Jim Morrison. The show often treads a fine line, especially during episodes that revolve around hot button political topics that are still uncomfortable today. The tenth episode, “We Shall Overcome,” is especially sensitive as it ties the infamous murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 to the show’s ongoing plot. A later episode is set around the Watts Riots in 1965.

Around two thirds of the way through the series, the tone of the story changes significantly, correlating with the arrival of a new recurring character played by Jeri Ryan. It is difficult to talk about later plots without giving away spoilers but the writers manage to turn many of your expectations completely on their heads. No matter how you may have predicted the show will end, I doubt you will have predicted this.

The show was cancelled before the end of the first season, so although the final episode ends with some closure, most plot lines are left open. The original plan for Dark Skies was for it to run for five seasons, each one focusing on a different era (61 – 69, 70 – 76, 77 – 86, 87 – 99, and 2000 – 2001), however due to cancellation it is up to us to imagine what happened.

Dark Skies has dated significantly since it originally aired, but if you can look past the special effects, occasionally hammy acting, and terribly over-dramatic voice overs that punctuate each episode, there’s a solid and interesting plot going on.

Eric Close plays John Loengard, managing to create a character who is unendingly patriotic and loyal to his country without turning into a cheesy Captain America wannabe. He also manages to separate himself from Fox Mulder – a trap he could easily have fallen into given the similarity of their personal quests.

J. T. Walsh is perfect as Majestic’s leader, Captain Frank Bach, and Megan Ward holds her own in what is a heavily male-dominated cast, despite occasionally being made to wear revealing outfits for thinly veiled plot reasons. Only 19 episodes of the show were broadcast (20 if you count the two parts of the pilot separately) so it makes a great show to binge on over a couple of weeks. If you’re a fan of alien invasions and government conspiracies, then Dark Skies is right up your alley.

Try it if you love: The X-Files, Torchwood, Independence Day
Watch it on: DVD, LoveFilm (UK only)

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