With the third season of "Falling Skies" kicking off this week, star Noah Wyle is remarkably candid about the hit sci-fi series' strengths and weaknesses. "I don't think there's anybody involved with this show that's more objective about it than I am, that is willing to point out its faults as well as its assets more than me," says the former "ER" doctor. He also says he's learned a lot of lessons about parenting during an alien invasion that can be applied surprisingly well to raising kids today.
After three seasons, do you think "Falling Skies" has found its footing?
This is a weird show in that I still don't feel like we've reached our full potential because every year we do something that kind of hobbles us. And yet they turn out pretty well as a result. I'd be really curious to see what we'd be able to accomplish if we didn't stand in our own way so much.
How do you mean?
Everything from scheduling to how much time we get scripts beforehand to casting. Maybe I'm spoiled because by the time "ER" was off the air, it was such a well-oiled machine that it just ran so smoothly. But for example, last season, season two, they wrote this wonderful role for a guest star, for a woman who was a pilot. You could've cast anyone from Kathy Bates to Alfre Woodard — and we went after both of them to do it — but it took a long time to pull the trigger on making those offers. The breakdowns didn't go out until a week or 10 days before the episode started shooting, so you have one shot, basically, and if they say no then you're scrambling. And if you scramble too much, then you're going to run into a visa issue bringing in an American actor to Canada. And as a result, you cast locally and a part that could've been really great, you end up whittling down to very little on the show, which is an unfortunate side effect. I don't know how we get around this, how we could do this better next time, but it's unfortunate that it happened this way.
Your character's had three sons during the run of "Falling Skies," and now there's a new addition. What have you learned about parenting during an alien apocalypse?
The tension that exists is ever-present; there's always a threat. We could all be attacked at any moment. Their own longing to be autonomous and independent is going to foster this real push-pull ambivalence about how to parent them. In the beginning it was all about giving his youngest son some semblance of a childhood in the context of this horrible situation. And then at the end of the second season and the beginning of the third, his new philosophy is that the kindest, most responsible parenting philosophy he can espouse is to arm his kids and train his kids and hope that they can defend themselves, and then maybe their kids will have the childhood that they were robbed of — that he's doing them a disservice by trying to shield them from any of these horrible realities.
That's an interesting parallel to the backlash against overprotective parenting.
The everybody gets an A thing? As a parent of two kids, I walk that line. In a lot of ways the filters that protected kids from the more mature aspects of our society are no longer there. You can turn on a TV just about any hour of the day and see just about anything under the sun. You can download anything from iTunes, you can see everything from graphic violence to sex in a video game, and so it's tough to be a parent these days and to try to allow access to all these different things at an age-appropriate levels — especially when you're competing against other parents that don't think the same way the you do. You're up against, "Well, Bobby gets to watch it," and "Cindy gets to see it." So on a relative scale, I can appreciate what Tom's dilemma is, about wanting to allow kids to be kids for as long as they possibly can, because that time is getting shorter and shorter.