We all know that I love a good sci-fi show. I love ones set in slightly alternate versions of the past even more. There’s just something so fun about taking a time period that has already happened and tweaking it some with some kind of sci-fi element. In the case of the History Channel’s newest show, Project Blue Book, that’s taking the real-life investigation into UFOs done by the Air Force in the 1950s and 1960s and suggesting that those UFOs might actually be extra-terrestrial and that there’s some kind of government conspiracy to cover them up. It’s basically The X-Files if The X-Files only focused on cases involving potential extraterrestrial sightings and took place in the 1950s and 1960s. So, it’s equal parts immensely enjoyable and really frustrating.
Created by David O’Leary, “Project Blue Book” is inspired by the personal experiences of Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen), a brilliant college professor recruited by the U.S. Air Force to spearhead this clandestine operation (Project Blue Book), alongside Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey), that researched thousands of cases, over 700 of which remain unsolved to this day. Each episode will draw from the actual case files blending UFO theories with authentic historical events from one of the most mysterious eras in United States history. Throughout the season, true to life, documented occurrences will be explored such as the Flatwoods Monster incident that took place in West Virginia, the Gorman Dogfight of Fargo, North Dakota, the Lubbock Lights of Lubbock, Texas and the Chiles-Whitted UFO Incident of Montgomery, Alabama among many others. Delving into themes such as trust, instinct, real news vs. fake news and government cover-up, “Project Blue Book” straddles the world of science and the exploration of the unknown.
I promise I’ll try not to make too many X-Files comparisons in this review, but it’s really hard because Project Blue Book really is just The X-Files set in the 1950s. Both shows feature someone who (mostly) believes in extraterrestrials – here, it’s Dr. Hynek, both shows feature a skeptic who just wants to explain everything weird away with a hand wave – here, it’s Captain Quinn (and sometimes Dr. Hynek; he starts off the series fairly skeptical but evolves as the episodes go on). Both shows have a new case every week, mixing in episodes that further the ongoing plotline involving a government conspiracy to cover-up the existence of UFOs. Both shows have villains that appear, at first, to be allies, but eventually betray those characters who have come to trust them – here, it’s the Air Force with Hynek and Quinn and a Russian spy with Mimi (Laura Mennell), Hynek’s wife. Both shows do that frustrating thing where you’re never really sure if what’s happening is actually supernatural or if it’s just some kind of weird, naturally occurring thing – here, each episode provides some kind of “plausible” explanation for whatever strange event has happened, but it never feels particularly satisfying, especially in combination with the ongoing conspiracy plotline that suggests something strange is happening. For what it’s worth, a lot of the individual investigations are really interesting, and many of the “plausible” causes for these experiences are also really interesting, it’s just that those explanations don’t always land very well in the context of a show that seems to be hinting at the likelihood of aliens really being behind everything. So, like The X-Files, Project Blue Book is a mixed bag. Lots of the individual stories are really interesting, but their conclusions don’t always land and the pace in which the conspiracy is unraveled and various characters begin to believe in something strange is frustratingly slow.
The most interesting thing in the show, perhaps, is the relationship between Hynek and Quinn. Like any good show of this nature, you’ve got a by-the-books, straight-laced character – Captain Quinn – forced to team up with a somewhat loose-canon outsider who just wants to learn the truth about things – Dr. Hynek. A lot of the drama comes from the conflict between the two. What’s interesting about Hynek and Quinn (especially in comparison with similar characters in other shows) is that both men begin the season extremely skeptical to the existence of extraterrestrial life. As time goes on, Hynek begins to believe in it – or at least that something strange is going on and the government is trying to get him to cover it up – while Quinn just doesn’t care enough to bother believing anything either way; he’s just doing the job the Air Force sent him to do: cover up UFO incidents in any way necessary. Watching the two of them clash is some of the best parts of Project Blue Book. Hynek’s eternal quest for the truth brilliantly clashes with Quinn’s devotion to just doing his job and not asking questions and the idea of pairing a military man and a man of science – two men with totally different relationships to information and questions – is such a smart move and it’s the major thing that elevates this show above others of its ilk. I love watching Hynek and Quinn on screen together and I’m excited to see how they continue to grow.
At this point, the biggest problem with Project Blue Book is its ongoing conspiracy storyline. It’s still pretty underdeveloped, to be quite frank. All we really know is that factions of the US Government is aware of some weird stuff that’s going down – and it may, or may not, involve aliens. There’s some kind of symbol that keeps popping up throughout much of Hynek’s investigations and a mysterious man who seems to know more than he lets on, but at this point, it’s all still pretty hazy. I understand that, in the vast scheme of things, it’s still early days for the show, but it is hard to get fully invested in a series mythology that doesn’t seem to quite know where it’s going yet. It’s a similar problem to The X-Files where it was abundantly clear that those writers had no clue what the ultimate endgame of their conspiracy was. I can only hope that David O’Leary and the other writers of Project Blue Book have a clearer idea of their endgame because I am interested in seeing how this whole conspiracy unfolds – it’s just a bit too hazy right now to fully get invested.
With all of that said, I really did enjoy this show. It’s not perfectly written, or anything, but it is a lot of fun. Sure, there’s a lot of issues with how the ongoing series arc is unfolding and how derivative much of the show feels, but I can’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy every single episode of this show. I just love shows like this. The acting, by everyone involved, is top-notch. Each of them is fully committed to their roles and it helps the show overcome some of the weaker moments of its writing. Visually, it’s a gorgeous show. All of the effects are genuinely impressive and the whole show has this gorgeous style that perfectly harkens back to exactly what you’d imagine when someone says “it’s a show set in the 50s about the Air Force investigating aliens”. The best aspect of the show, of course, is the relationship between Hynek and Quinn and I’m really excited to see where their relationship goes in season two. Project Blue Book isn’t a perfect show. I’m not even sure if it’s objectively good, but I sure do enjoy the hell out of it. It scratches an itch for that nice blend of sci-fi and history shows that I love so very much. I’m glad I watched it and I’m glad it’s getting a second season. It’s harmless entertainment and, sometimes, that’s pretty nice.
4 out of 5 wands