A starman waiting in the sky —
“There’s a door in front of you. On the other side is something I could never imagine.”
Showtime has released the official trailer for its upcoming new sci-fi series, The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as an alien who comes to Earth in hopes of saving the people on his home planet. It’s a bold move, considering that the series is based on the classic 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, which already spawned an iconic film adaptation featuring rock star David Bowie.
(Spoilers for the 1963 novel and 1976 film below.)
Tevis’ novel tells the story of a humanoid alien from a planet called Anthea, which is suffering from severe drought. Going by the name Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien travels to Earth in hopes of transporting the remnants of his people to our soggy orb. Thomas patents a bunch of advanced alien technology from his own planet and makes a fortune, with plans to use that wealth to construct spaceships for his people. He finds a friend and ally in a fuel technician named Nathan Bryce.
Thomas also earns the love of a woman named Betty Jo, although he does not reciprocate her feelings. It is Betty Jo who introduces him to sex and alcohol, and he becomes addicted to the latter. Eventually Bryce discovers his buddy is an alien, and while Thomas is initially relieved to have someone know his secret, the CIA and FBI have been tracking him since his arrival on Earth. He is imprisoned and subjected to many invasive tests, one of which permanently blinds him. Unable to complete his mission, Thomas records one last message to broadcast to his home planet before fully giving in to drink.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is quite the tragedy of existential loneliness and alcoholism. So filmmaker Nicolas Roeg’s decision to cast rock star David Bowie as Thomas in the director’s 1976 film adaptation was, in retrospect, inspired. Bowie already had an otherworldly, androgynous appearance and was frank in a 1983 interview about inhaling a good 10 grams of cocaine a day during filming: “I wasn’t of this Earth at that particular time.” Roeg’s film followed the basic plot of the novel while putting his own distinctive artistic touch on the project, and the film received mostly positive reviews upon release. It’s now considered a science fiction cult classic (for good reason) and among Roeg’s best work.
Developed and written by Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, this new TV adaptation began as a project for Hulu before moving to CBS All Access (which has since absorbed into Paramount+). Showtime will air the series in the US, with Paramount+ carrying it internationally. Per the official logline, “The Man Who Fell to Earth will follow a new alien character (Ejiofor) who arrives on Earth at a turning point in human evolution and must confront his own past to determine our future.”
The TV adaptation introduces some clear deviations from the source material, starting with Ejiofor’s character, an alien named Faraday. Bill Nighy plays Thomas Jerome Newton, the character Bowie played. (He even sports a similar dashing hat.) “I brought you here to finish what I started,” Thomas tells Faraday, indicating that this is a sequel of sorts instead of a straightforward adaptation. Earth is on the same trajectory as their dying planet. “This is how we all survive,” Thomas insists. But there are still those who would prefer to take out the aliens rather than work with them for a mutually assured survival.
Naomie Harris co-stars as Justin Falls, described as “a brilliant scientist and engineer who must conquer her own demons in the race to save two worlds.” She has a young son, and the relationship they have with Faraday seems reminiscent of The Day the Earth Stood Still. (That’s an element possibly borrowed from the largely forgettable 1987 made-for-TV version of The Man Who Fell to Earth.) The cast also includes Westworld‘s Jimmi Simpson as Spencer Clay; Rob Delaney as Hatch Flood; Sonya Cassidy as Edie Flood; Joana Ribeiro as Lisa Dominguez; Annelle Olaleye as Molly Falls; Josh Herdman as Terry; and Kate Mulgrew as Drew Finch.
The Man Who Fell to Earth will debut April 24, 2022, on Showtime in the US and on Paramount+ internationally.
Listing image by YouTube/Showtime