Preview: Colony 1×1 (US: USA Network)

An alien invasion that missed the boat


In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network
In the UK: Not yet acquired

They say the secret of comedy is timing. I think the same is true of TV. A bit over a year ago, I was asked on Radio 5 why I thought zombie shows were so popular. I went for the glib Zoolander quote “they’re so hot right now”, but also mentioned that there was an obvious subtext – just in case you weren’t listening, I was talking about rich versus poor, fear of diseases and the other, with an enemy that can’t be understood and negotiated with, only fought, and yet which keeps on coming, no matter what you do.

That, of course, was two years ago and was at the back end of the zombie/disease/Occupy Wall Street trend. Now the big fear is that immigrants are going to come in, swamp us, and take over our countries. They’re going to invade us.

TV, of course, can take a long time to get made, with years sometimes passing between genesis, gestation and eventual realisation of a show. Had Colony come out a year or so ago, back when I was doing that radio show, it would have looked prophetic and pioneering. Had it come out say two or even three months ago, it would have been riding a wave. Coming out now? It’s missed the boat.

About
From executive producers Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Ryan Condal (“Hercules”) comes USA’s newest, highly-anticipated drama COLONY. Set in the very near future, COLONY centers on one family’s struggle to survive and bring liberty back to the people of an occupied Los Angeles. SAG winner Josh Holloway (“Lost”) stars as former FBI agent Will Bowman and Satellite Award winner Sarah Wayne Callies (“The Walking Dead”) stars as his wife, Katie, in the series which takes place in a dangerous world of divided ideologies. While some choose to collaborate with the occupation and benefit from the new order, others rebel and suffer the consequences. After being separated from their son during the invasion, Will and Katie are willing to do whatever is necessary to be reunited with him. Thus, when the powerful Proxy Snyder (Peter Jacobson, “House”) offers Will a chance to get his son back if he will collaborate with the occupational government, Will and Katie find themselves faced with the toughest decision of their lives. They will have to go beyond whatever they thought possible, risking their lives and their relationship to protect their family. 

COLONY is a co-production between Legendary Television and Universal Cable Productions. Nelson McCormick (“24”) also executive produces. The pilot was directed and executive-produced by Academy Award winning director Juan Campanella.

Is it any good?
Created by Lost exec producer Carlton Cuse and set in a modern day America, it sees the world invaded by aliens whose overwhelming superiority forces humans into submission. No one’s quite sure what they want, but they corral populations into the cities, surround them and divide them up with giant walls, then impose martial law on the citizens with the help of some willing jack-booted collaborators. It then follows one couple, the seemingly ordinary Joe with a shady past Josh Holloway (Lost, Intelligence) and his slightly distant wife with a shady present Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break, The Walking Dead), as they try to survive curfews, and lack of food, medicine and basic freedoms, just as the governor of Los Angeles, Peter Jacobson (House), decides to start dangling in front of them all manner of incentives if they choose to work for him against the resistance.

All of which isn’t a bad idea. It’s basically a modern day, science fiction analogy for Vichy France during the Second World War, complete with obvious fascist insignia and eugenics by the new Overlords. So had it popped up three months ago, it would have pre-empted the rather similarly themed Childhood’s End, in which sinister-seeming but initially unseen aliens take over the Earth and change society as we know it. If it had managed to come out a year ago, it would have beaten to the punch the rather popular The Man In The High Castle, where we got to see what America would have looked like under Nazi occupation, if the Allies had lost the Second World War.

This isn’t Colony‘s fault but it does show you how important timing is, at least. But it also shows you that you have to have more in science fiction than just a simple “gotcha” idea, particularly if your idea isn’t that gotcha. (Maybe it’s more gotcha for Americans than Europeans: we know what life under Nazi domination was liked – most of Europe experienced it first hand and the UK saw it happening just over 30 miles away from us across the Channel. We don’t need clumsy metaphors to make it seem real.) You’ve got to have decent characters, plots and all the other parts of drama, too. And on all those scores so far, Colony is pretty humdrum, hoping as with Lost that lots of mysteries, such as what the aliens want and what needs they need “satisfying” before they’ll leave the Earth, will keep people tuning in for more in the absence of anything else.

The casting is good, at least, with Holloway and Callies impressive leads, and Jacobson suitably untrustworthy. But their characters, while heroic, are dull and lack anything that would make you care about what happened to them, particularly since their enemy is so faceless. The show adds nothing new that you won’t have seen in Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List or any other wartime drama about heroic resistance fighters and the moral issue of collaboration. There’s nothing juicy on the science-fiction side either, no new ideas, nothing to stir the brain into action.

Nevertheless, I’m going to give Colony a chance at least as far as viewing its second episode is concerned. Resistance leader Paul Guilfoyle (CSI) only shows up at the end of the episode. Holloway and Callies spend most of their time hiding in freezers and trying to avoid revealing their true natures, both to each other and the Overlords, so don’t really get a chance to reveal anything truly interesting or likeable about themselves. And Jacobson really is the star of the show and a treat to watch. I doubt it’ll get that much better, but its secret-keeping format for the first episode hobbles it and prevents it from really exploring either its characters or its dilemmas, so there is at least room for it to get better in the second episode.

All the same, will it ever set the world on fire? Not unless it turns back time.




  • Mark Carroll

    Lack of juicy ideas and any association with Lost that just made increasingly silly stuff up as it went along aren't an encouraging start, much as I generally like alien occupation shows.

  • Andy Butcher

    Not sure the timing bothers me very much, given that V was over 30 years ago. 🙂

    I thought the pilot had promise, but sadly that's pretty much all it had. I guess all TV pilots are expository by their very nature, but this was one of those that really didn't do anything beyond setting the scene.

    Still, I'm a sucker for alien invasion/occupation stories, so I'm willing to give it a chance. It better start actually going somewhere pretty quickly, though.

  • I think both V and its remake are so long ago now that the “all this has happened before and all this will happen again” principle applies, and you can start doing similarly themed shows without it looking like you're jumping on a bandwagon or missing the zeitgeist.

    Interviews with Carlton Cuse et al suggest they're not going to do much with the aliens, but are instead going to focus on the dilemmas of the family. Whether that's 'going somewhere', only you can decide 😉

  • Andy Butcher

    Yeah, I'd read that. Can't help wondering why they'd go out of their way to set up so many mysteries around the aliens if they're not actually going to do much with them.

    I guess we'll see. 🙂

  • Mark Carroll

    That's how I feared/expected it would go, ah well.

  • Have you even seen Lost? 😉