Review by C.J. Bunce

Previewed with an elaborate display at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Project Blue Book at last has made it to television as the latest supernatural TV drama.  It got off to a slow start with its premiere episode this week, but it has potential, beginning with the performance of the series lead, Irish actor Aiden Gillen.  Gillen, known for roles in The Wire, The Dark Knight Rises, Game of Thrones, and Bohemian Rhapsody, plays real-life Dr. Allen Hynek, a college professor brought into the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book program to help debunk the existence of UFOs beginning in the 1950s (he would later be a technical advisor on Close Encounters of the Third Kind–he actually coined the term “close encounter”).  Gillen plays the role like the lead in a John La Carré novel, and he’s a ringer for a younger Gary Oldman (think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).  He is partnered with British actor Michael Malarkey as Captain Michael Quinn (an amalgam of several figures from the history books), the skeptic charged with quashing any idea that UFOs exist under the orders of General James Harding, played by Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger, Walking Tall, Star Trek: First Contact, Arrow, Quantum Leap).  

A twist for the series is its effort to show a non-fiction side to The X-Files motif.  It’s one of History Channel‘s rare efforts (along with Vikings) to get back to its educational roots.  This includes a smartly added In Search Of -inspired coda citing specific data points used as background for the episode.  And it has a big name attached to it–Robert Zemeckis–as executive producer.  The two women leads may pull in even more viewers–Laura Mennell (The Man in the High Castle, Haven, Watchmen) as Hynek’s wife, and Ksenia Solo (Lost Girl, Orphan Black, Black Swan) as a newcomer to Hynek’s neighborhood.

The production looks good, a typical Vancouver production with a moderate budget, but what’s there is quality–something in the vibe of Wayward Pines.  So look for plenty of good vintage nostalgia–some pretty 1950s cars, a solid wardrobe from costumer Carla Hetland (In the Name of the King, Butterfly Effect, Garage Sale Mystery) and a believable era from the past put onto the screen from production designer Ross Dempster (Wayward Pines, Lost in Space).

The Mulder and Scully struggle between “I want to believe” and “I don’t want to believe” looks to be the core of the series, but Dr. Hynek does not at first blush appear to be a true believer as Mulder was.  Instead he is the one this time applying science to the UFO report, although audiences will see a flicker of the “I want to believe” in him from him early on.

But episode one reveals a slower pace than the typical supernatural-themed program.  Will audiences stick around for the ten episodes of its first season?  Commercial breaks seemed packed into the series opener.  The focus on drama and explanatory dialogue in place of the action, creepiness, and excitement of The X-Files that fans will be hoping to find here just might not be enough to keep viewers from clicking away.  But it has enough going for it to get us back to see what’s in store next week.

Look for Project Blue Book Tuesday evenings at 9 p.m. Central on the History Channel.

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