‘Project Blue Book’ fashions borrowed elements into an entertaining whole

The Art of Nerding Out

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There is no originality left in entertainment. The best one can hope cobble together elements from old stories in a way the feels fresh and new. That’s what executive producer Robert Zemeckis and the good folks at The History Channel have attempted to do with their new series, “Project Blue Book.” By borrowing bits and pieces from other TV shows, movies and stories, they’ve cobbled together a fun, engaging series about a fascinating chapter in American history.

“Blue Book” centers on astrophysics professor J. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen), who finds himself recruited by Capt. Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey) to join the American government’s legendary Project Blue Book. Together, Hynek and Quinn investigate incidents involving UFO sightings and construct plausible, science-based explanations to these sightings.

But it doesn’t take long for things to get labyrinthine and mysterious. Shadowy, hat-wearing boogeymen and stalkers harass Hynek’s wife, Mimi (Laura Mennell). Throw in some foreign parties that are interested in what Hynek is studying and some military leader guiding the project who may not be trustworthy, and you have a compelling tale built on a sturdy foundation of U.S. history and UFO mythology.

“Blue Book” borrows from numerous sources. The “truth is out there” and conspiracy elements of “The X-Files.” The mystery and suspense of a good detective tale. The lighting and visual cues of horror films. The show takes all these elements and stuffs them into a blender. The result is at turns dramatic, grippingly suspenseful and completely engrossing.

It helps that the cast does good work. Gillen is excellent as a man of science who faces possibilities that contradict everything he’s previously believed. He’s dumbfounded (and maybe a little frightened) by what he’s seeing, but he’s determined to uncover the truth. Good stuff.

Malarkey is just as good as Capt. Quinn, a military man whose only concern is getting the job done. Part of the enjoyment of this series is watching Quinn’s nose get out of joint as Hynek drags him around trying to get the whole story after he’s decided the cases are closed. Gillen and Hynek make a pair that’s a lot of fun to watch.

The supporting cast also turns in strong work, especially Mennell. Neil McDonough shows up to be gruff and chew scenery, and he steals every scene he’s in. Ksenia Solo’s turn as Susie Miller sets off your sense that something is fishy from the first moment we see her, and that helps boost the tension and the drama.

From a story standpoint, “Blue Book” claims to be based on actual historical events, but it doesn’t take very long for the show to veer away from pure history. The writers have done a good job of melding the sci-fi stuff with the historical stuff and making them feel like they plausibly exist in this world. The dialogue is nothing to write home about, but nobody says anything so ridiculous to break you out of the story.

“Project Blue Book” may be assembled out of other shows’ old furniture, but those bits and pieces come together to form a sci-fi/historical series that succeeds in spite of its lack of originality. With good character work, a cool premise, some tense sequences and a compelling overarching story that draws you in so smoothly you may not even notice you’ve been hooked, “Project Blue Book” is pure UFO mythology bliss.

”Project Blue Book” airs Tuesday nights on The History Channel. You can also stream episodes at the History Channel official website.

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