Project Blue Book feels like a throwback to simpler TV days.
It is unreservedly a show created and written by people who miss what could be construed as the Golden Age of TV Science-Fiction: the 1990’s. The days before prestige drama and the rise of the superhero, days David O’Leary’s series would have slotted into like a glove. By modern standards, Project Blue Book looks like a UFO abducted it, brought it 25 years into the future, and plonked it on the History Channel, or for us in the UK, SyFy. Everything about this show, from the concept through to writing and plotting, is almost quaint by modern eyes.
To anyone who has ever watched an episode of The X-Files, the show to which Project Blue Book owes the greatest debt, it is also all extremely familiar. Based on real world UFO lore, and a real life US Army investigative project called ‘Project Blue Book’ which ran across the 50’s & 60’s, the show presents astrophysicist J. Allen Hynek (another real life figure) as he is brought by the military in to investigate a USAF pilot who claims he was buzzed before crashing by a strange light in the sky. Partnered with young Army Captain Michael Quinn (the excellently named Michael Malarkey), Hynek begins to realise there may be some UFO-based truth to Fuller, the pilot’s, story, while Quinn battles with his orders by Neal McDonough’s steely General to ensure Hynek reports it was a weather balloon and his desire to expose the truth.
What doesn’t help is that Hynek, far from being essayed by an awkward geek as befits a character who describes himself as an eccentric, is played instead by Littlefinger himself, Aidan Gillen. Now look, Gillen is a good actor who had roles before Game of Thrones, but whether he likes it or not, he was so good as the slippery Petyr Baelish it is very hard to now buy him as a boffin interested in extra-terrestrial life, particularly when he feels fundamentally miscast in a role that should feel weird, edgy and deliberately outside the mainstream. Gillen doesn’t in the end seem to know quite how to play Hynek at this stage, and his dynamic with Malarkey’s Quinn is non-existent. It doesn’t bode well for an investigative drama based on their partnership.
The biggest problem in the end with Project Blue Book is that it feels painfully old hat and unoriginal, despite drawing from plenty of real-life sources – the blurb at the top promises that every episode comes from a documented case. That’s fine, and it certainly looks the period 1950’s part, but very little in the entire endeavour makes Project Blue Book stand out from the ten a’penny sci-fi dramas which came in the wake of The X-Files back in the 90’s (Dark Skies, First Wave, Earth: Final Conflict), all of which either died off early or faded into ignominy. Fittingly, the show is filmed in Vancouver, birthplace of The X-Files, which almost certainly means there will be crossover in terms of local talent filling out guest roles. In truth, it all just serves as a consistent reminder of what this show, even from its rather flat pilot episode, *isn’t*.
Honestly, if you’ve never seen The X-Files and you don’t know anything much about UFO lore or conspiracy theory, Project Blue Book on the evidence of this first episode could well tickle your pickle. Everyone else is just going to wonder, honestly, why this even exists in a world which left this kind of show, and this kind of storytelling, behind decades ago.
Project Blue Book airs Wednesdays on SyFy in the UK.