How much you enjoy The Man Who Fell to Earth will depend on your fondness for a few different things. First of all, do you enjoy it when alien characters arrive on Earth and raise eyebrows by behaving in an inappropriate but endearing manner? There’s a lot of that. Do you like seeing Rob Delaney in serious dramas? There’s that. And how much did you enjoy the cult David Bowie film it serves as a belated sequel to? I suspect that, if you loved the movie, you may not care much so much for the show – surely the opposite outcome to the one the creators intended.
This Paramount+ series features Chiwetel Ejiofor as an alien from the planet Althea; Naomie Harris as Justin Falls, a physicist who has given up being a physicist; Clarke Peters as her wheelchair-bound father Josiah; and Jimmi Simpson as Spencer Clay, a repugnant bellend who is clearly meant to be the show’s villain. Sadly, on the basis of the three episodes made available to reviewers, The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn’t explain Clay’s motivations very clearly. Faraday, the name Ejiofor’s character borrows from a police officer who detains him, has zipped down to Earth because his fellow Altheans are going extinct. So will humans, he says, unless they embrace the equations he has been brought with him: used correctly, they create something called “cold fusion”, a perfect solution to climate change.
It’s a bit all over the place. The show understands there is only so much you can watch Faraday innocently repeating human phrases like “Fuuuck”, but it still manages to fill too much screen time with this kind of thing. Faraday’s fellow Althean, Thomas Newton, is played in flashbacks by Bill Nighy, who gamely steps into the character that Bowie portrayed in the 1976 film. The continuity here may lure in Bowie devotees but, because the series isn’t as distinctive as its inspiration, it feels like a little like a Clockwork Orange spin-off directed by Michael Bay.
Is it terrible? Absolutely not. Though the opaque proceedings are often too enigmatic to make much sense of – see the Jimmi Simpson character – there is intrigue in the exploration of an invention as world-altering as cold fusion. There’s also something to be said for the intriguing dynamic between Justin, Josiah and Justin’s daughter, Molly (Annelle Olaleye). But on the basis of the first three episodes (all of which drag on a little too long, as is standard for streaming shows now), it may not quite be enough. It’s difficult to imagine this The Man Who Fell to Earth inspiring the same devotion as the film. Sure, it was always going to be a difficult bar to reach, but what do you expect when you call your series The Man Who Fell to Earth?
‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ is available on Paramount+