Monday, November 15, 2010

The Tragedy Of Boring Serials That Go Nowhere: Invasion Takes Too Long To Develop Into Obvious.

The Good: Decent acting at times
The Bad: Gives WAY too much away too early, dull characters, Drawn-out plot
The Basics: When a hurricane strikes as cover for an invasion of extraterrestrials, it ought to be exciting and keep our interest; Invasion does not.

The strength of the best serialized show is that it can tell a compelling character-driven story over a long period of time, allowing for complex plots, interesting character development and the potential to allow viewers to see into the deepest regions of another individual (albeit a fictional one). When Invasion premiered after Lost (click here for my review!), I thought it would cap a pretty powerful night of television: Lost, Alias, Invasion; it had potential. And all the previews looked decent. Now, the canceled serialized science fiction show, spawned in the aftermath of the box office hit War Of The Worlds" (the Tom Cruise version) is available on DVD and it begs the question: why?

Following a hurricane in Florida, the Southern state slowly rebuilds, while various locals work together to recover from the damage. Unfortunately, though, there's more going on than just a hurricane and some of the simple townsfolk come to realize that. The night of the hurricane, young Rose (for example) saw lights falling from the sky into the water of the swamp nearby. As her father, park ranger Russell, works to get roads open and get life back to normal around his corner of Florida, he comes to find that there were people who went missing the night of the hurricane who all turned up naked, near the water the next morning.

One such individual is his ex-wife, Dr. Mariel Underlay, who is remarried to the creepy sheriff in town, Tom. While Russell and his two children duke it out about the past with Mariel, Tom seems pretty intent on the future. As Mariel struggles to understand what happened to her while she was out the night of the hurricane, Tom becomes her guide because he knows exactly who and what she is becoming.

The problem is, by the end of the very first episode of Invasion, everyone knows, too. Tom is an alien, though the exact nature of the aliens in Invasion is not revealed until later in the series, at the end of the first episode, there is dialogue that indicates Tom knows what Mariel is going through. There's only one way he could know that and, rather unsurprisingly, it's because he went through pretty much the same thing years earlier.

So, we know that Tom is part of the invasion and that's some pretty genius casting. But then the story drags. It drags and it drags hard. Episodes go by without any significant plot or character developments. It feels like we are mired in post-hurricane Florida because nothing happens and nothing gets done. Everyone is in a holding pattern.

And when the plot does bother to move, it's almost always in ways that are either unenlightening or uninspired. So, for example, in an episode that is supposed to be particularly tense, two scientists reveal that they have the face reconstructed of a person they believe is the harbinger of the alien invasion. And it's absolutely no surprise if you have even an average i.q. Or were simply awake for the prior episodes. Or even if you just saw the commercials for the pilot episode!

Part of the problem is certainly that the characters are pretty much all dull people cast from Hollywood beautiful, save William Fichtner, who plays Tom. It's easy to spot an alien on television, they're always played by people like Fichtner, Leonard Nimoy, John Lithgow, not the people who fit the mold of Hollywood "Ideal." Eddie Cibrian - second billed - who plays Russell is of course a strapping park ranger who has his hot ex-wife, played by Kari Matchett, and his hot new woman, reporter Larkin, played by Lisa Sheridan. And "Invasion" continues the disturbing trend of trying to sex-up tweens, in this case Alexis Dziena who is playing a girl much younger than the woman she actually is, so I suppose it's kind of a moot point.

But fundamentally, none of the characters are even acting. We don't care about Jesse's feelings of abandonment from his mother. It's hard to care about Russell's conflict between protecting his new family and his desire to help his ex-wife as she tries to figure out what's going on with her. The only one even remotely interesting at the beginning is the paranoid, conspiracy theorist Dave, who suspects right from the beginning that the hurricane is linked to an alien invasion.

Dave is ably played by Tyler Labine who instantly creates the stereotype of a well-informed but paranoid geek. Labine plays the cards he is dealt and the role goes quickly from geek to just plain pain in the butt. That's not Labine's fault, but even his acting cannot save the role.

William Fichtner, though, rules every scene he is in. Even though we know Tom is one of the enemy from the beginning, Fichtner plays the part well, as creepy and yet unrevealing as possible. Near the end of the series, he is given a chance to stretch out in other directions and he makes it work. But for the most part, Fichtner's performance - not his character's character - is what makes this otherwise unbearable show possible to sit through.

Despite its potential, Invasion suffers from not going anywhere and getting there very very slowly.

For other science fiction television boxed sets, please check out my reviews of:
V - The Miniseries
True Blood - Season 1
Star Trek


For other television series reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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