History’s ‘Project Blue Book’ is worth something

Photo courtesy of History

On Tuesday, History premiered “Project Blue Book,” a new drama series which follows U.S. Air Force investigations into UFO sightings throughout the 50s and 60s.

The Robert Zemeckis produced series stars Aidan Gillen (“Game of Thrones”) as Josef Allen Hynek, an astrophysics professor recruited by the Air Force to dispel public concerns about UFO sightings.

The new series is intended to be a serious drama with high production values, real actors and real producers. This is a drastic departure from the type of programming the channel has become known for — reality shows such as “Pawn Stars” and pseudoscientific docuseries like “Ancient Aliens.”

Because of History’s association with these types of shows, it is natural for a viewer to approach “Project Blue Book” with a healthy skepticism — it is hard to imagine that one could find quality television on the same channel as “Alaska Off-Road Warriors.”

The pilot episode, titled “The Fuller Dogfight,” opens with a pair of fighters performing flying drills over Fargo, North Dakota. One leaves to return to base, and while the pilot of the other plane is flying solo he spots a fast moving, glowing orb which causes him to pick up radio signals from a station in San Diego. The pilot, named Fuller, tries to shoot down the orb and loses control of his plane, taking damage causing him to nearly crash.

The initial incident is reasonably well filmed and is rather intense and engaging. The audience next sees the aftermath of the incident, as Air Force officials discuss what to do about the UFO sighting. Captain Michael Quinn, played by Michael Malarkey (“The Vampire Diaries”), is soon tasked with recruiting Hynek to investigate UFO incidents.

At this point, the series starts to show a few of its weaknesses. As the plot slows down, the viewer is confronted with mediocre writing and acting. Most of the dialogue feels awkward, and the acting does little to cover up the flaws in the script. Conversations between Hynek and his wife Mimi, played by Laura Mennell (“Loudermilk”) feel forced.

The plot is fairly well crafted, but at times the character writing contradicts the dialogue. Early in the episode, Professor Hynek explains to Mimi that one reason he wants to take the job investigating UFOs is to seek the recognition he never achieved for his work in astrophysics. Throughout the pilot, however, Hynek seems to be motivated exclusively by a desire to seek the truth, never to simply earn public recognition.

It’s possible that the writers wanted Hynek’s character to transform from the skeptical scientist simply looking to publish often and earn references to a UFO believer (much like the arc of the real Josef Allen Hynek), but without showing the transition, it just feels like bad writing.

Then there’s Malarkey’s character, Captain Quinn. Quinn does not just feel unrealistic, it’s as if the writers simply lifted a World War II pilot out of an old comic book and dropped him on screen.

Naturally, at the end of the pilot episode, there is a dramatic twist in which one of the characters is revealed to be duplicitous. The twist feels predictable, but it is unlikely that many viewers will actually see it coming, and it does set the series up for some interesting conflicts in the future.

This twist is actually an excellent microcosm for the show as a whole; it is difficult to watch certain parts of the pilot without chuckling at the acting and writing, but viewers cannot deny that there is something entertaining, about the series.

“Project Blue Book” is never going to compete with shows like “Mad Men” or “Man in the High Castle” for awards and acclaim, but it will almost certainly develop some level of cult following.

The series is often compared to “The X-Files,” and there is a good chance that “Project Blue Book” may become the 21st century version of that cult classic. Plenty of people are going to laugh at the series, but those who give it a chance may well find the show difficult to put down.