‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ lands on a lighter approach to the alien story

Chiwetel Ejiofor makes an extra-interesting extraterrestrial, but Naomie Harris is the heart of the Showtime series as the Earthling he helps.

SHARE ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ lands on a lighter approach to the alien story
MWFTE_101_2837_R.jpg

Former scientist Justin (Naomie Harris, left) helps visiting alien Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor) create a new kind of fusion power in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

SHOWTIME

Walter Tevis’ cautionary 1963 sci-fi novel “The Man Who Fell to Earth” has been adapted twice before, with the 1976 Nicolas Roeg feature film starring David Bowie and then a TV movie in 1987, so the time seems right for a reboot that retains the premise and basic framework of the source material but shifts the focus to a new character and takes a decidedly lighter, sometimes wickedly comedic approach to the storyline.

With the talented showrunners Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek: Discovery”) and Jenny Lumet (“Rachel Getting Married”) overseeing this Showtime limited series and giving it a lush, cinematic look, “The Man Who Fell To Earth” opens with the obligatory in medias res sequence that gives away too much about what will eventually transpire, before we go back to the beginning, with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s alien crash-landing in New Mexico, naked and alone and unfamiliar with this new world.

After a hilarious scene reminiscent of the Terminator’s first appearance from the future, the alien begins to call himself Faraday and starts to pick up the language although not the social customs of this strange new land. (It takes him a while to understand you can’t just shout out the f-word in public, or that he has to be somewhat discreet about his constant guzzling of water, due to the fact he has four stomachs.)

‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

Untitled

A series premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

With Ejiofor turning in a brilliantly creative performance as Faraday, who has all these strange mannerisms and a rubbery face and abilities verging on the supernatural, Naomie Harris becomes the heart of the series as Justin Falls, the lone human on Earth who can help Faraday in his mission to create a type of fusion source that would save his planet and maybe Earth as well.

When we meet Justin, she’s getting paid cash for cleaning up toxic waste and uses the money to buy illegal prescription drugs because she can’t afford prescribed medication for her ailing father, Josiah (a magnificent Clarke Peters). How is she key to the future? Turns out Justin was once a brilliant scientist who came closer than anyone in human history to creating a new kind of fusion power. After the expected scary-comedic scenes in which Justin is finally convinced Faraday really is an alien, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” becomes a sci-fi road trip, with Justin trying to wrap her mind around everything that’s happening while Faraday alternates between sounding like a New Age messiah and a crazy person.

Along the way we meet a variety of strange and often deeply disturbed characters, including Jimmi Simpson’s Spencer Clay, an oddball and hyper-intense CIA agent; Rob Delaney’s Hatch Flood, the disgraced black sheep of a once-powerful tech corporation family, and the great Bill Nighy as Thomas Newton, the mysterious character portrayed by Bowie in the 1976 film. At times, there’s an overabundance of eccentrics; nearly everyone in this story is dealing with hallucinations, nightmares, delusions, paranoia, you name it.

“The Man Who Fell to Earth” is at its best when Naomie Harris’ Justin and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Faraday are front and center, each in mourning, each on a desperate mission, each depending on the other to somehow achieve the miraculous.

The Latest
The printing plant issues we’ve been facing this week continue. We’ve had to print Wednesday’s and Thursday’s papers at multiple facilities across the region, which affects how and when papers are delivered — with a deadline Wednesday of 6 p.m. — more than four hours earlier than usual. We’re grateful for your understanding.
News from the Sun-Times and other media outlets that still print physical pages could only be consumed electronically Tuesday because of weather-related production issues. Those who just get their news online may not have noticed, but print subscribers did.
President experiencing ‘mild symptoms’ and is taking Paxlovid, White House says
After three piping plover chicks died in the span of five days, the Sun-Times spoke with wildlife experts to understand the risks the young creatures face.
Chicago chefs Will Carter and Alvin Green faced off Wednesday in the Cook County Sheriff’s Garden Chef Challenge. Each was given an hour to create a dish using ingredients grown at the farm.