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File History’s Project Blue Book under must-watch

Project Blue Book Cast
The cast of HISTORY’s new drama series Project Blue Book premiering January 8. From L-R: Laura Mennell as Mimi Hynek, Aidan Gillen as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Neal McDonough as General James Harding, Michael Harney as General Hugh Valentine, Michael Malarkey, Captain Michael Quinn, and Ksenia Solo as Susie Miller. Pic credit: Matthias Clamer/HISTORY

Between mystery men in trenchcoats and fedoras, strange lights moving in the skies, and cigarette-smoke snaking across the screen, you’d think The X-Files were being revived, but HISTORY’s Project Blue Book is sleeker, sexier and crafted better for modern day television.

At the center is the story of a family man, looking for recognition, looking to pioneer new science, seeking answers for his questions, all while this government attempts to hide that truth.

The first episode, The Fuller Dogfight aired on Tuesday night to a rousing debut as it introduced all of the main characters in the series.

Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen, Game of Thrones), a civilian astrophysicist who is highly skeptical about extraterrestrial life has been hired by the United States Air Force to massage the general public’s anxiety of these strange occurrences with science and fact.

It’s based on the actual Project Blue Book, the United States Air Force’s third project, succeeding Project Sign and Project Grudge, to address the growing number of sightings during the period of 1952-1969.

Over 12,000 cases were opened and 10 percent of them remain unsolved or unexplained to this day. Each episode will cover one of the cases, closed or left open. 

Hynek partners up with Captain Michael Quinn (played by actor/singer Mike Malarkey), a good soldier who is assigned to calm the American public of their growing paranoia.

Following the orders of his superiors, General James Harding (Neal McDonough, Justified) and Captain Hugh Valentine (Michael Harney, Deadwood), Quinn is tasked to get Hynek on board and work to bring explanations quickly and quietly.

Their first assignment is a case of a North Dakota Air National Guard pilot who claims to have gotten into a dogfight with a mysterious aircraft. 

The actual case is a 1949 case for Project Sign, known by alien. fanatics as the “Gorman UFO Dogfight,” one of the more notable sightings because it involved a credible witness, and was monitored by a control tower at Fargo’s airport.

This important case file, re-imagined, allows the worlds of Hynek and Quinn (who is based loosely on the work of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt) to converge. 

For Project Blue Book, the case of the dogfight is resolved hastily by Quinn, who uses a weather balloon to explain the pilot’s experience, but Hynek is unconvinced.

The science and evidence don’t match up. So Quinn takes Hynek up in the sky to reenact what pilot Fuller experienced and wind up accidentally crashing the plane,  perhaps as a symbolic harbinger of things to come.

Quinn and Hynek clash on matters as the Air Force is only interested closing cases, not what Hynek proposes in pursuit of the truth. Who’s holding back information? Who’s telling the truth?

Hyneck is looking to explore all the possibilities. In history, he eventually becomes a believer of alien life, so this starting point leaves plenty of room for a journey to begin. 

Quinn too is not as rigid as he first appears, but will need more time to thaw out, given his superiors are closely watching. He’s sharp though and is aware that Hynek is onto something more. This tug of war, this theme of trust is sure to be an underlying theme.

Clandestine elements arise from the Air Force generals looking to put a lid on these sightings, and someone is lurking in the shadows, leading Hynek to additional truths, unbeknownst to Quinn or otherwise.

Then there’s Hynek’s wife Mimi (Laura Mennell) who takes care of their son while her husband is away, but coincidentally befriends Susie (Ksenia Solo) just as her husband takes a new job that keeps him away. Susie appears as a friend to take Mimi away from her mundane life but she is revealed by the end to have her own set of suspicions.

Future subplots stem from the heart of the series being the Hyneks’ relationship and its elasticity, given what Mimi may get herself into.

Centrally, where our lead characters’ pursuit of the truth will lead them has me excited, especially how the results and revelations take their toll. And the bigger picture of the dissemination and control of information make this a timely addition to the conversation of fake news.

Hopefully, the writers play around with procedural structure, or at least the outcomes so there is some ambiguity heading into each episode.

Ultimately, you’ll tune into these stories to see Hynek’s journey and how he navigates this foreign world to eventually become its authority.

Despite these stories being dramatizations, they are grounded in real world cases, which is sure to send viewers to the rabbit hole of information, during the commercial breaks during each episode and long after.

Project Blue Book is the first series created by David O’Leary, but you wouldn’t know it as the series has the steely confidence of a trustworthy showrunner in Sean Jablonski (Nip/Tuck, Suits, Gypsy) steering through the seas of television.

Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) serves as executive producer. Directors include Robert Stromberg (Maleficent), and Alex Graves (Game of Thrones) and production designer Ross Dempster’s (Lost in Space) sets are exquisite. They’ve crafted a lush period piece, with a daring tone where the United States and the Soviet Union were not only in a race for nuclear arms but to raise their flag on the moon.

If you like your mysteries shrouded in science, suspense and secrets, then Project Blue Book is for you. Until next week, everyone look up to the skies. 

Project Blue Book airs on Tuesdays at 10/9c on HISTORY.

Ernie Estrella is a TV and film critic. He is also a contributing editor at SyfyWire (formerly Blastr) and has also written for USA Today.
Ernie Estrella


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