The Truth Was Out There.
Project Blue Book premieres Tuesday, January 8 on History. The following is a non-spoiler review.
If you can suffer through a bit of slog, roughly the first half of “The Fuller Dogfight,” History’s Project Blue Book actually beings to evolve into a compelling mystery with decent character dynamics. Of course, with the entire series being based on actual events, and inspired by a real-life government-funded Cold War investigation into UFOs, the actual limitations of this story’s poetic license creates some immediate concern.
Because how far can the show actually go down the rabbit hole? Regardless of how many liberties are taken to jazz up the tale and heighten the drama for TV, it feels like we’re already experiencing the endgame here in the pilot episode.
Aliens may secretly exist (shhhh) but the Air Force wants to squash public hysteria by hiring a respected astronomer to debunk sightings all around the U.S. Surprise though! Said scientist actually wants to investigate these reports fully and won’t sign off on the usual “it was just another weather balloon” cover-up. So already, just based on the premise, and the fact that we’re tinkering in actual history here, you can visualize the push and pull to come – and, possibly, how it’ll all wrap up with things getting shuttered away by “top men” in that giant Ark of the Covenant warehouse.
Look, it’s The X-Files. And that’s definitely the “procedural with running mythology” vibe History Channel wants to embrace – the game-changing TV format the original Files created. Here though, with Project Blue Book, we get a bit of added grandeur because we’re now trudging into the actual events The X-Files was based on. Or, spiritually, a continuation of (in a sense). Project Blue Book treks all the way back to the late ’40s/early ’50s, during the fallout of not only the panic-inducing War of the Worlds radio play but also the Roswell incident in ’47. This is a period piece alien hunt, following the goosed-up exploits of Dr. Josef Allen Hynek.
Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen drops his decadent deviousness to become the one chasing after the shadows. As Hynek, Gillen adopts a bit of the wide-eyed everyman persona, with additional cockiness. Truthfully though, Hynek isn’t someone who outright believes in aliens. He needs to be convinced just like anyone else. Within him is both Mulder and Scully. He needs evidence and when the facts and numbers don’t line up, he simply won’t sign off on whatever explanation the Powers That Be want him to endorse.
Acting as Hynek’s partner is The Vampire Diaries’ Michael Malarkey, as the very dutiful, very “all I need is what I’m told” Captain Quinn, who’s under orders to present a rational narrative for unexplained sky swirls (everything’s Neal McDonough is the barking General here). So far, Quinn and Hynek have a traditional combative rapport, and the bickering helps us bounce through the case, but I’m curious as to how Hynek will be talked back into tracking more cases after he realizes that no one’s interested in him actually looking too deeply into the data.
This first episode takes us into the “classic” Gorman Dogfight incident – here called the Fuller Dogfight – which was a happening in Fargo involving a pilot seeing a ball of blue light in the sky and opening firing on it while it moved in impossible ways. An interesting bonus to Project Blue Book is that each episode will ostensibly take us into these real-life occurrences (as future episodes are titled “The Flatwoods Monster” and “The Lubbock Lights”) and that immediately coats the show’s somewhat rudimentary execution with intrigue and flare.
Actual history is most definitely on Project Blue Book’s side, possibly offering up the best reason to watch the series. Without this tethering to past events, the show itself is fairly plain. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the warm-up scenes in “The Fuller Dogfight” are particularly chewy, often feeling more like those quick cut dramatized reenactments from NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries. As if everything’s going to get rushed through, Law & Order style. The episode eventually mellows out and finds something resembling a groove but the true mystery here is how much the story will allow itself to color outside the lines.