Sunday, 17 January 2016

Review: USA Network's COLONY

Sunday, 17 January 2016


While movies tend to depict the spectacular, action-packed events of nasty aliens invading the planet (War of the Worlds, Independence Day), television drama often chooses to dramatise the aftermath—partly because it's cheaper that way, but also because there's often more storytelling meat when it comes to the repercussions of such a seismic event.

Colony is the latest sci-fi series to tackle humanity coexisting alongside aliens, with earlier examples that spring to mind being Alien Nation, Earth: Final Conflict and the more recent Falling Skies. These are very tricky shows to get right, but Colony surprised me because it was full of smart decisions and a very human approach that adds spice to a familiar setup.

In a near-future Los Angeles, we're introduced to the seemingly normal and slightly boring Bowman family: married couple Will (Josh Holloway) and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) with their two kids Bram (Alex Neustaedter) and Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp), plus Will's sister Maddie (Amanda Righetti). But while their home life appears very typical, like everyone else they're actually living under occupation. Razor wire lines their garden fence. There's a city curfew. "Collaborators" in berets (nicknamed 'redhats') are on patrol. High-tech drones surveil the population from high in the sky. And there's an enormous metal wall that circles L.A (and presumably many other places), keeping citizens inside what are known as 'Blocs'. It takes awhile to be told in no uncertain terms, but the planet has been invaded by aliens who are now our unseen oppressors.

'Unseen' is a very crucial word. The creative masterstroke of Colony is how is refuses to show us the alien menaces. All we see is the effect their existence is having on people's everyday lives, which doesn't paint them in a very flattering light. Although, it's true, other fictional aliens would have exterminated mankind, or turned Earth into an uninhabitable husk after harvesting all out natural resources... so are they really all that bad? I'm sure Colony has some surprises in store for us, as the reasoning behind the extra-terrestrial occupation and more insidious facts become known to us. This is just the first hour, after all, and television can afford to hold back information for a long time... provided the writers keep us on the hook for answers.

Carlton Cuse is the co-creator of Colony with Ryan J. Condal, and he knows a thing or two about drip-feeding audiences answers after running Lost with Damon Lindelof. While Cuse's involvement isn't a guarantee of success (his American Civil War drama with Amazon dissolved to nothing, his remake of French hit The Returned was recently cancelled), he seems to be on safer ground here. It may be early days, but there's an immediate feeling Colony has been given some real thought—or at least in terms of what an alien occupation might resemble—and the main characters are very easy to get interested in. Fans of Lost will enjoy seeing Josh Holloway (who played the sarcastic Sawyer) cast as the main protagonist, while Walking Dead and Prison Break fans could be drawn by the presence of Sarah Wayne Callies as his co-star. Both are decent, likeable, attractive actors to build a show around, and I can buy them as a married couple.

It's hard to talk about Colony's pilot in great detail, as the major talking points are huge spoilers and the show's very new—but suffice to say the story managed to keep my interest throughout, then ended with a twist I didn't see coming but can see fuelling a lot of human-level drama. And, most surprisingly, I'm not even itching to see what these aliens look like, or what their longterm plans are. It's just interesting seeing a portrayal of city normality with bizarre sci-fi quirks; reminding me of how much fun The Man in the High Castle can be for similar reasons. Both shows create rich, intriguing alternate worlds.

In the case of Colony, this is a fantastic start. I'm hooked; they just need to reel me in for good. If the story starts to lose its appeal, or I start getting anxious to just see the aliens already, those are signs the show is losing its way. I doubt the Cuse and Condal will be brave (or foolish?) enough to keep the aliens behind a curtain for years, but hopefully they'll stick to this intriguing notion that a truly dominant alien force probably would maintain a mystique and get human collaborators to do the donkey work. Maybe the twist will be that the aliens aren't particularly threatening or powerful without their technology, so have to create a psychological smokescreen to rule through a culture of fear?

Thursdays • USA Network