Next month marks the two-year anniversary of AppleTV+ launching, and with the exception of critical darling and awards season favorite Ted Lasso, the platform is still looking for another one of its original shows to really break through and make a mark on the public consciousness.
That’s not to say all of the in-house shows are terrible; far from it, in fact. The Morning Show, See, Foundation and Mythic Quest all range from good to great, with sci-fi playing an integral part in Apple’s exclusive lineup. Invasion is the latest to come along, and while it’s got an interesting premise and plenty of talent attached on either side of the camera, the first five episodes made available for review are a self-serious, overly-ponderous slog that never gets out of first gear.
X-Men veteran Simon Kinberg co-created the series with David Weil, best known for Amazon’s wild thriller Hunters and star-studded anthology series Solos. The broad strokes of the plot funnily enough follow an alien invasion, which has been a regular source of creative inspiration on both the big and small screens for decades. Instead of focusing on military generals mounting a response and people gazing in wide-eyed wonder at citywide destruction that would make Roland Emmerich proud, the stakes are kept limited to a disparate band of characters scattered all across the world.
In true cliched fashion, the first protagonist we meet is Sam Neill’s Sheriff John Bell Tyson, a veteran law enforcement officer that’s literally one day from retirement. On the trail of some drug dealers, he winds up trapped in a crop circle and attacked by a plague of locus, getting things off to an eerie start.
Across the initial couple of episodes, we’re introduced to the majority of Invasion‘s major characters, who all appear to be completely disconnected from one another on both a narrative and thematic level. As well as Neill’s Tyson, we stop in with Golshifteh Farahani’s upper middle-class Aneesha Malik, who suffers a crisis of confidence when she discovers her husband is being unfaithful with a social media influencer.
Shamier Anderson’s Trevante Ward is a Navy SEAL stationed in Afghanistan who stumbles across something out of this world while on patrol with his unit, Shiori Kutsuna’s Mitsuki is a Japanese communications engineer desperately trying to find out why one of her country’s space shuttles has mysteriously gone radio silent. There’s also the unfortunate and occasionally badly-acted English schoolboy being bullied by his classmates, who head out on a field trip before ending up at the bottom of a ditch after getting caught in an unexplained meteor shower.
Other than power glitches, occasional nosebleeds, tremors in the ground and the very first scene of the premiere where a mysterious presence annihilates a lone man wandering the desert, any talk of an actual extraterrestrial threat is non-existent. While it’s admirable to make a big budget show about visitors from beyond the stars and then deliberately avoid action sequences in the name of character-building, it doesn’t help that the pace of Invasion is slow to a fault, making you wonder if business is ever going to pick up.
Just when you think something exciting is about to happen… we cut to the other side of the planet and pick up the story somewhere else. It feels as though we’re about to get a huge revelation that finally kicks things up a notch or two…. and then the credits roll and we’re on to another episode that starts in a different corner of the globe. In fact, so little happens in the first five installments of the season that either the back half is packed to the gills with excitement and intrigue, or Invasion could go down in the history books as the most boring episodic effort of the year.
The performances are solid across the board, the visuals are frequently impressive and the production design is second-to-none, so it’s all very well made, but that isn’t enough to keep people hooked. The first three are available from today, but it’s hard to imagine the less discerning or patient viewer getting that far, never mind waiting until December 10 to see how it all comes together in the end.
Kinberg and Weil are obviously attempting to strip back and subvert our expectations, offering real-world parallels that reposition each strand of the plot as a reflection of our society; whether it be race, gender, social status, wealth, foreign policy and the rest. The only problem, and it’s a pretty substantial one, is that the meat of Invasion simply isn’t all that interesting, and this is one of the rare cases when a bit more bang for our buck wouldn’t go amiss.
Invasion is an admirable attempt at subverting the expectations that come with a big budget sci-fi show about alien invaders; the only problem is that it's not very interesting or exciting.