Project Blue Book (2019)
Many years ago, I use to rush home from school to watch Project UFO. Based loosely on the real-life Project Blue Book, this show from 1978 featured two U.S. Air Force investigators, Maj. Jake Gatlin (William Jordan) and Staff Sgt. Harry Fitz (Caskey Swaim) and their subsequent investigation into alleged UFO sightings. Sometimes there would be rational explanations and on other occasions, there was clearly extraterrestrial involvement. By the second season out protagonists experienced a close encounter of their own. It wasn’t the most densely plotted of dramas and was produced and presented in the idiom of mainstream television of the time. However, for a ten-year-old boy it had some excellent miniature work (Brick Price Movie Miniatures) and anything about UFOs was always a source of interest. There was also a great and very seventies theme tune by Nelson Riddle. So when I discovered that History (formerly The History Channel) had produced a science fiction drama series called Project Blue Book, I became somewhat nostalgic and equally intrigued.
Set in the early fifties and loosely (now there's an understatement) based on the US government's real-life Project Blue Book investigations, the show centres on Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey) and Dr. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen). The pair are tasked by the US Air Force to investigate reports of UFOs and debunk them, or at least come up with rational explanations for them as a means to quash growing public concern. While Quinn, a career serviceman, doesn't care beyond carrying out his superiors’ instructions, the sceptical Hynek quickly becomes convinced that not everything is as it first appears. This brings him into conflict with General James Harding (Neal McDonough) whose involvement with the project is far more complex. Meanwhile, as Cold War paranoia spreads among the US population, Hynek's lonely wife Mimi (Laura Mennell) is befriended by a charismatic blonde Susie Miller (Ksenia Solo) who appears to be more than interested in her husbands work. As Quinn and Hynek investigate further cases, they encounter traumatised “encounter victims”, secret military experiments and are shadowed by a sinister man in black.
Having now watched the first six episodes of Project Blue Book, I do find myself somewhat conflicted with regard to the show. This is a high budget, quality production with great period detail, surprisingly good digital visual effects and a cast of reliable character actors. It ticks pretty much all the boxes you’d expect from this kind of TV show. Are there rational explanations for UFOs or is it all a government cover up? Are the military tinkering with recovered alien technology? Are extraterrestrials drawn to earth due to the human’s first tentative steps into space and the dawn of the nuclear age? Project Blue Book also adds some new elements such as focusing on Dr Hynek’s wife, who is frequently left alone and shut out of his work. The role of a “wife” from this era could easily sustain a drama in itself and is an interesting angle. So is the inclusion of Soviet spies in the local neighbourhood. Yet despite all these elements, it still feels like something is missing and then there is my over familiarity with this genre. Hence, I am still waiting for the show to reach a key moment where everything falls into place for me. At present each episode just increases the number of dramatic loose ends that are outstanding.
The old adage “there is nothing new under the sun” is particularly pertinent to television. However, the key to success when revisiting tried and tested territory, is to put a sufficiently new spin on things. Tell an old story from a new perspective, find new ways to explore and interpret the themes. Reverse roles, think outside the box and generally try not to simply do “more of the same”. So far there is precious little of this in Project Blue Book which seems to be falling into the standard, deep conspiracy plot device that was done to death in The X-Files. This leaves me with a choice to make. Cut my loses now and spend my time watching something else, or soldier on with the remaining episodes of season one (there are four more I believe) in the hope that it will improve and offer something new. I cannot say that I’m confident of the latter and I get frustrated with shows that chase their own tails or make it up as they go along (Lost and again The X-files). Still nostalgia is a powerful motivator and every now and then, Project Blue Book provides a fix. So I suspect I shall watch the remaining episodes and see if things improve, yet I have a nagging doubt that this may be the wrong choice.