Friday, September 30, 2005

TV Review: Invasion

And finally we reach the best of the three new Lost wannabes, Invasion.

ABC, home of the original trendsetter Lost, wins the mystery evil invasion derby with Invasion (which also wins the award for having the best title of the three).

Invasion does two things correct, right from the start.

First it centers the drama around outsiders. Unlike CBS' Threshold, the Invasion characters are pretty average folk trying to survive a Florida hurricane. They do not have Men In Black-esque high tech labs and equipment. They do not have satellite photos and all the resources of the Pentagon behind them. As a result they are more familiar, more accessible to the audience. More human. In this regard Invasion bears a closer similarity to NBC's Surface.

Where it differs from and improves upon Surface are the characters' interrelations, the setup that binds them all together and goes beyond what their individual day jobs or backstories happens to be. This is the second thing it does right. The Invasion characters are a modern extended family: divorced parents sharing custody of the kids; both parents are remarried and building new families. This offers plenty of dynamic tension between almost any combination of characters. Surface nor Threshold can offer that potential level of character interaction, complexity, and mixed emotions.

Of course the extended family unit has to be comprised of interesting characters itself - an interesting domestic situation with boring people would still be boring. Invasion's father/park ranger character (Eddie Cibrian) is a legitimate leading actor that anchors the piece. The kids in the middle of the family situation are a mixed bag - the adorable, insightful little girl is a bit overdone while her caring older brother is spot-on and endearing.

The remaining leads are carried by the mystery element, with the show clearly implying that the ex-wife's new husband, William Fichter as the town sheriff, is one of the bad guys clearing the way to usher in the invasion. They're setting up a life and death struggle between us and the aliens while playing it out through a life and death struggle between the two households. The kids of course provide innocent victim fodder caught in the middle and I'm sure as the weeks progress we'll see them in greater and greater danger. This is all a good start.

The evil alien conceit in Invasion is also more finely crafted than the other two shows. Two episodes in we haven't really seen them yet (that's good - Surface's silly sea dragons should have kept to the shadows for a couple weeks longer), but their effects are slowly being felt. Mystery is building in a generally appealing way.

There's also nothing laughable about this concept, unlike Threshold's silly "oh no the aliens are flashing their simple-yet-insidious logo at us!". And Invasion's as-yet unseen aliens avoid the laugh-out-loud crappy CG sea dragons of Surface.

The most laughable element is intentionally laughable - the conspiracy theorist brother-in-law. This is clever - the best way to pass off a hard-to-believe situation is to have the characters ridicule someone who completely believes in it.

It's a bit like declaring something "not cool" that may actually be cool, but you're not sure, so rather than seeming "not cool" yourself, you make a pre-emptive "not cool" strike against said item. The show is offering a potentially ridiculous storyline, but tells you that it knows it's potentially ridiculous by ridiculing a character who doesn't think it's ridiculous. This magically exonerates the show from being ridiculous. You think I'm being a smart ass, but it's true.

It also helps that all the other characters are reasonable and extremely skeptical. We like that. The show's creator, Shaun Cassidy (whose mom and half-brother David were part of TV's Partridge Family!), was wise in this regard.

As with the other two shows, Invasion is presented in spectacular HDTV with 5.1 surround sound.

With Lost's second season as the lead-in for Invasion and Invasion's clear superiority over the other two evil menace shows, it's a lock. Invasion wins by a mile.


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