In the early 1950s America was under attack by forces that couldn’t be explained. Strange glowing lights filled the skies; people were encountering bizarre creatures all over the place. Desperate to prevent an outbreak of mass panic, the US military put together a team to explain away these events, only to discover some things simply couldn’t be swept under the rug. Welcome to Project Blue Book.
It’s become a cliché for series about paranoia and government conspiracies to claim that they’re “based on actual events”, but in the case of Project Blue Book it’s true. There really was a wave of UFO sightings and alien encounters across the USA in the years after World War II, and Project Blue Book was the Air Force’s official attempt to explain – or more accurately, explain away – these mysterious events.
So, Project Blue Book star Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger) isn’t playing some generic scientist. He’s astronomer J. Allen Hynek, the real-life expert who came up with the “close encounters” system of ranking alien encounters. He even had a cameo at the end of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The military hired him hoping that he’d throw cold water over the alien sightings to stop people from panicking, but his scientific principles meant he couldn’t deny the truth – even when the truth was way out there – and he ended up something of a believer.
It’s this mix of down-to-earth '50s reality and outer space strangeness that makes Project Blue Book so compelling to watch. Each week Hynek tackles a new mystery (all based on real-life Project Blue Book cases), ranging from strange creatures in the woods to taking to the skies to re-enact a dogfight with a (possible) alien craft. One thing’s for sure: it’s never a dull day at the office when you’re investigating possible alien lifeforms.
The real-life Project Blue Book was a major inspiration for The X-Files, and with the sceptic vs believer dynamic between its central duo, this series goes a little way towards returning the favour. Hynek is partnered with World War II hero Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey), who turns out to be the by-the-book Scully to Hynek’s Mulder. He’s a career solider charged with keeping Hynek on message even as it becomes obvious that the message they’re meant to spread has nothing to do with the facts. If he wants to keep his career, he’s going to have to keep Hynek in line.
Meanwhile, it rapidly becomes clear there’s more going on here than just a series of rural folk seeing something strange in the back woods. Hynek and Quinn’s superior officers clearly know more than they’re letting on (it wouldn’t be the military without a collection of mysterious objects, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style), while Hynek’s wife Mimi (Laura Mennell) has troubles of her own. Bomb shelters are going up all over the neighbourhood, paranoia is running riot and her new best friend Susie (Ksenia Solo) has an agenda that goes beyond just being friends.
Over this first season’s 10 episodes Project Blue Book covers some of the most confronting and inexplicable UFO cases in history. It’s a gripping drama in its own right, but the real-life nature of the cases they investigate gives it an edge most spooky series can’t match. It’s a series based on actual events, and those events pose questions that we still haven’t answered today.
SBS will air the double-episode premiere of Project Blue Book at 8.30pm AEDT Thursday 28 March followed by two weeks of double episodes. Episodes will stream simultaneously at SBS On Demand. From Thursday 18 April, the remaining episodes will air weekly at 9.30pm AEST.
Follow the author here: @morrbeat