Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New Yorker puts in her two cents on Invasion and Threshold

You know, funny thing about this new fall TV season.


Ok, I might be getting a little carried away with myself, but so far the big new sci fi shows of the season have for the most part underwhelmed.

I’ve already made it abundantly clear on this blog how I feel about Surface. But after parking myself in front of the couch for hours this weekend, I was finally able to catch up on the rest.


When I say that Invasion is better than Surface, I mean it in the same way that I prefer the odor of urine to that of feces. In essence, they both stink.

Invasion suffers from many of the same problems that Surface does –wonky casting, clunky dialogue, and overused concepts.

One of the biggest problems with Invasion is the casting and the chemistry (or lack there of) between the actors/characters. It’s not that any of the individual actors are doing a particularly bad job, their performances all range from good to fine. But there’s just something about the combination of them together that doesn’t feel quite right.

Invasion primarily follows the story of two families that are connected to each other by remarriage and children. Russell Varon (played by Eddie Cibrian) was once married to Dr. Mariel Underlay (played by Kari Matchett) and had two children together: Jesse (Evan Peters) and Rosie (Ariel Gate). Already the casting here doesn’t really match up. Russell is played by a thirty two year old actor, who comes off like he’s in his late twenties. Mariel is played by a thirty five year old who comes off like she’s in her late thirties. There’s also the more pressing fact that they have absolutely no chemistry to speak of. Obviously as X’s who have happily remarried, the two might not have sexual tension any longer, but should relate to one another in a complex and unique way. Usually even when we see divorcees on screen there is usually a small glimmer that shows why these people were together in the first place. Usually its followed by a moment that shows why they split as well, but its seems more effective to show both sides of the coin. Unfortuntaely Russell and his X-wife Mariel have a chemistry vacuum, and it is difficult to imagine why they were ever together in the first place. In addition, Russell doesn’t really fly very well as a father of two, and in particular Jesse, his teenage son. The actor who plays Jesse is actually eighteen, but he comes off fairly well as a fifteen/sixteen year old. Even so, that makes Russell an awfully young father –and since he looks younger than he is, it results in an awkward repor between the two. He seems more like an older brother than a father.

Both Russell and Mariel remarried after divorcing –Mariel, to an older man, the town sheriff, Tom Underlay (played by William Fichner, late 40’s) and Russell, to a spunky TV reporter Larkin Groves (played by thirty year old, Lisa Sheridan). Mariel and Tom make a pretty decent match, because Fichner looks young for his age, and Matchett looks older. But despite the fact that Cibrian/Russell and Sheridan/Larkin make one attractive couple, she, like Cirbrian, looks very young for her age, only accentuating the fact that their household feels more like grad students playing house than anything else.

The other big problem with Invasion is the plot line. It’s hackneyed and trite, like ia TV movie of the week from the early 80’s instead of a fresh new modern show. I mean, the locale is sort of an interesting aspect. There aren’t many shows set in the Florida everglades, which provide an intriguing and unusual backdrop. But what of the premise?

After a violent hurricane, the residents of a small town begin to experience strange occurrence; witnessing odd things, and noticing bizarre behavior in their neighbors.

In short it’s Alien Nation meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it is neither as gripping nor as well executed as either of those sci-fi fables. Everything is so painfully obvious, there is no mystery. By the end of the two hour pilot, (which is all that has aired thus far) we already have a decent sense of how the entire season will play out. Dave Groves, (played by Tyler Labine) Russell’s brother in law, is the loopy, conspiracy theory type, who has a hunch about what is REALLY going on in his town. If I got a dollar for every time Dave said EBE (extra-terrestrial biological entity) during the show, I could buy a new Ipod Nano. Constantly out in the swamps and trolling for evidence of alien life, Dave discovers a desecrated carcass with ominous implications. It appears to be a human skeleton that has either mutated or been ravaged by some sort of “monster”. Dave dumps it into the trunk of his car, and shows it to Russell. This is followed by neverending sequences of shots, scattered throughout the episode showing Russell shining his flashlight into his trunk and pondering what to do. But Russell waits and ponders to long, and the next time he goes to have a look in his trunk the remains are gone. Later on, when Dave decides to go on another one of his little fieldtrips, he gets attacked in the water. He is left with bizarre looking wounds on his leg, and as we find out in the following episode, other victims have been pulled from the Hurricane wreckage with these same wounds on them. Despite what the doctors are saying, we know that “ain’t no gator do that”.

Running along side in confluence to the aliens attacking people plot, is the apparent aliens changing people plot. Mariel, a doctor who is passionate about her children and her new husband (the Sheriff) vanishes after a nasty fight with her husband just as the hurricane hits. She is found the next day, naked and left for dead in the swamps. Though she survives the ordeal, no one is sure exactly what happened to her, and she seems somehow changed -- behaving cold and removed. Her little daughter Rosie, keeps dropping hints about how odd her mother seems, (only to abandon her fears at the end of the second episode, why, we’re not sure) ---leading the audience to believe that all is not right with Mariel. We also get the sense that the Sheriff is not what he seems, and Willam Fichner’s quirky looks actually help accentuate this. He has been put in charge of the town which has gone under quarantine, and has military inforcing the Sheriff’s rules. Is he responsible for the disappearence of the body from Russell’s car? Is he just shady, or is he already one of…..them (the aliens).

The entire series seems to have the story potential of a single X – Files episode. But it’s gotten good ratings –and with the help of a terrific lead-in show (LOST), it may just weather the storm of an entire season. Depressing.


Surprisingly, this show has been my favorite of the lot. I missed the two hour pilot, but I’ve caught the second and the third episodes, and I thought the third episode in particuar was pretty solid. Last Friday's episode involved a convicted psycho-killer who burned his family when he was only a young boy, and escapes his mental institution. As it turns out, his family had become infected by the alien "virus" and were virulently dangerous. So actually, the poor kid had done the right thing by setting them on fire. I thought it was sort of interesting.

The primary reason Threshold is stronger in than either Invasion or Surface is that it has pretty good casting. It has a well varied cast with some unique character actors, and a stalwart lead; it acheives the endearing tone of a motley crew (as much of a motley crew as can be allowed on CBS at any rate). Carla Gugino, who has been doing film and TV work for a while (most recently the Spy Kids movie and Sin City), plays the lead: Dr. Molly Caffrey, a government agent, who has been devising a plan for the possibility of a hostile extra-terrestrial threat. After years of planning, the unthinkable has finally happened, and aliens are attempting their “takeover” of earth. It is a slow and stealth operation, and only a small number of humans have been exposed to the aliens and their technology, (once humans are exposed to the alien lifeforms they are altered forever). Among Dr. Caffrey’s comrades are Cavennaugh, a no-nonsense square-jawed military guy, who’s biggest boon to Caffrey is his physical strengh and combat know how. There is a glimmer of tension between the two that implies they may become romantic interests for each other down the road. Next Generation vet, Brent Spiner, plays Nigel Fenway, a doctor and scientist, who monitors Caffrey’s health as she is exposed to various alien elements. He also serves as a biological and forensic analyst of sorts. Robert Benedict plays Lucas Pegg, a technologically savvy, albeit slightly uptight individual who backs up the teams efforts by calibrating and researching important technological alien findings. Peter Dinklage, of Station Agent fame, plays Arthur Ramsey, a pompous mathametician, who spends most of his time calculating and generating various possibilities, probablities and other “answers” by use of his outstanding mathamatical abilities. His wry sense of humor, and egoism in this character are the comedic highlight of the show. The aimiable Charles S. Dutton portrays J.T. Baylock, the gruff, but old softie boss, who leads operations out of headquarters….wherever that is….

All the characters are fairly par for the course, but Gugino’s intelligence and competence as Dr. Caffrey are sufficient to help bouy the rag tag team around her. On the whole, the show has a bit of a CSI feel to it, which I am not a big fan of, but it at has at least striven for something different than just another LOST ripoff. The thing that I like about the show is that it has created a format for itself, where there can be a running mythology, while having encapsulated storylines from week to week. While Caffrey and her team struggle to elimate the aliens that are infiltrating the earth, they encounter different mysteries and challenges in each episode. Unlike Invasion, or Surface, which are wieghed down with lofty cumbersome season long storylines, Threshold has allowed itself ways to bring new story elements and characters in and out of the show with relative ease. I think this will capture the interest of audiences weary of plots the become entangled upon themselves. I wouldn’t say its particularly spectucular, but it has solid writing and acting, and I am definitely keeping it on my TiVo to see where it goes. Besides, after Brannon Braga (Threshold’s series creator) took the Star Trek franchise where no show should go (with Enterprise), he has a lot of making up to do. Threshold might just be his penance.


Anonymous crazymonk said...

Maybe you just need to fall in line and become a Firefly fan. I never got into it, but it could be your kind of thing.

5:13 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Firefly sounds great and I intend to get into it, but with only one season, and no hope of ever being rejuvenated, I don't know how long it will sustain me for....

5:19 PM  
Blogger screamwriter said...

I'm pulling for "Invasion" but I agree with your comments. Aside from a possible alien invasion, there isn't a whole lot going on in that town. I wish the characters were more interesting, a skeleton or two in a few closets. "Threshold" hasn't held my attention either. The ratings for both shows have started to slip.

5:51 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Yeah the characters in Invasion has thus far failed to show real depth. As for Threshold we'll see how long it actually keeps my interest....

5:55 PM  
Anonymous nach said...

i only watch a few of the episodes that aired when it was on. the wild west thing kind of scared me.

i'll probably watch serenity tho.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as an avid watcher of invasion, i wish that larkin would do some investigative reporting into why you have such a chip on your shoulder... i should have known your critique was going to be off point however, the second i read that you preferred the smell of urine over feces... *sigh*

10:48 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Hey, I'm an avid watcher of Invasion as well. I haven't missed a single episode this season yet. I would love nothing more than to enjoy the joy and have a new sci-fi show on Television to celebrate. Unfortunately I don't find it the least bit engaging. Perhaps Larkin should investigate into why you have such bad taste in television....

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

or maybe she could do a special report that could refer us to better blogs on hollywood. until then, i'll see you at johnaugust.com.

5:07 PM  

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