Summer is a time when the screens at our local cineplexes crackle with big, noisy extravaganzas. It's an approach that television usually shies away from, except for the occasional high-concept production like Steven Spielberg's alien-invasion thriller, "Falling Skies," which is back in action this weekend.

And we do mean action. Sunday's explosive two-hour opener boldly delivers on the promise by TNT producers to rev up both the pace and the firepower in Season 2.

For the uninitiated, "Falling Skies," one of last summer's biggest cable hits, imagines what life would look like after convoys of mean-spirited extraterrestrials try to blow Earth to smithereens. Now, there are only a few frazzled groups of humans struggling to live on and fight back. They include Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a former college history professor and father of three who has become an unlikely leader for the 2nd Massachusetts civilian resistance group.

At its core, "Falling Skies" is a survival story -- one that isn't crafted quite as well as "The Walking Dead" but still makes for good, escapist fun.

Sunday's opener picks up three months after Season 1's epic teaser that saw Tom willingly board a spaceship in order to gain some understanding of these scary spidery creatures we call "skitters." When Tom returns, there are plenty of people stoked to see him, especially his sons. But there are also some who are suspicious of what exactly went down during his time away and wonder if he might be "a walking time bomb."


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We'll offer no major spoilers here, other than to say that opening night features plenty of warfare and fiery tension, not only between the humans and the aliens, but also among the Earthlings themselves. There are a few flashbacks to Tom's time on the spacecraft, hints of a burgeoning romance and some key developments involving Tom's middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup).

We'd tell you more, but we fear the aliens would "harness" us and bend us to their will.

NO BURNOUT HERE: Another show raising the stakes is "Burn Notice" (9 p.m. Thursday), which returns this week just in front of "Suits" on USA, the cable network that typically owns the summer.

The drama picks up just moments after last season's finale left off, with Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) watching his girlfriend, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), get hauled off to jail by the feds. This really ticks off the usually cool and detached CIA agent, so he gathers up his team of spies to spring Fiona, and he's willing to stop at nothing to make that happen.

The opener feels very much like a turbocharged action movie, which should please all you couch-bound adrenaline junkies. Another noteworthy development: "Burn Notice" this season welcomes a new villain played by William Mapother. He was one of The Others who creeped us out so much on "Lost."

BARING HIS FANGS: This past Sunday, "True Blood" kicked off its fifth season in typically bizarre, mind-blowing style. We're still trying to wrap our heads around the strange sight of Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) working together like a couple of BFFs, and Tara (Rutina Wesley) behaving like a vicious animal on a rampage after her stunning transformation.

This week, things get even crazier with the introduction of Christopher Meloni as Roman Zimojic, the charismatic leader of the Vampire Authority. He's a bloodsucker who looks all smooth, suave and contained in his ultraexpensive suits, but he can blow a gasket in a major way if you cross him, as Bill and Eric have.

We've previewed this Sunday's episode, and we can assure you that Meloni's introduction is made in dramatically freaky style. It's going to be a blast watching him chew up scenery, especially for "Law & Order: SVU" fans who became used to seeing Meloni bringing the hammer down on sex offenders for 12 seasons.

STILL MAD FOR 'MAD MEN'?: While other shows heat up, another season of "Mad Men" is history, but we couldn't let it go without a few words.

Season 5 was filled with more "wow" moments than is typical for a show that tends to be more subtle and moody than action-prone. (With Lane's suicide and Joan's business "deal" being the biggest.) In a way, that set us up to anticipate something monumental in Sunday's finale.

Instead, creator Matthew Weiner again defied expectations by returning to a mostly low-key simmer. A letdown? In some ways, yes.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. After watching Don suppress his womanizing ways for an entire season (while Pete and others played the hound dog), there came a sign that his marital fidelity is waning.

I'm not among those who tout Season 5 as the show's best. It's more in the middle of the pack for me. Still, I'm as eager as any fan to see where Don and the firm are headed.

REALITY CHECK: Just a quick reminder that we continue to get caught up in the recapping craze around here. This summer, we're churning out snappy summaries of several reality TV shows, including "America's Got Talent," "The Bachelorette," "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Around the World in 80 Plates" every week.

The recaps appear on our websites only and can be found at www.mercurynews.com/tv under the "Reality Dish" heading. Check them out and toss in a few comments while you're at it.

Contact Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney, and Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.ChuckBarney.

'Falling skies'

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When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Where: TNT