This review originally ran during New York Comic-Con in October.
The folks at USA made a very smart play at New York Comic-Con this year, pairing their upcoming new series, Colony, with their summer hit Mr. Robot. Executive producers Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal hit the Hammerstein Ballroom stage to introduce the pilot episode to a crowd full of attendees donning fsociety masks, but the show proved to be a worthy precursor, introducing a group of very likable and engaging main characters who are in the midst of an especially curious and volatile situation.
The show opens with a seemingly average suburban family. Young Bram (Alex Neustaedter) and Grace (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) are hanging out with their dog while their father Will (Josh Holloway) attempts to make breakfast until their mother Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) steps in and swiftly gets things in order. However, when she sends Bram out to pick some oranges from a tree in their backyard, that’s when we get our first hint that this isn’t such a quaint neighborhood after all. They’ve got barbed wire lining their yard.
The reveal is a tad heavy-handed, and so is a good deal of the exposition that follows. We come to learn that there was an invasion and that now the region is being colonized by “hosts.” Are they human? Did they come from above or down below? That’s never clarified, but given the presence of certain technology and the way the characters refer to these invaders, by the end of the pilot, it’s tough not to assume that they’re aliens.
This is one of the smartest moves that the writers make in the pilot episode. It isn’t about the invaders, but rather about how their arrival and occupation affects the main characters. Will, for instance, is a standup guy. He may not be able to cook eggs, but he’s a former special agent and loves his family dearly. Katie’s got a fairly tough exterior that’s very reminiscent of Laurie from The Walking Dead, but the pilot episode also reveals some curious layers to her, suggesting that she could be one of the most interesting characters to track throughout the season.
The driving force behind the narrative in the pilot is Will and Katie’s missing son. When the “arrival” happened, they were separated from their third child and now there’s this gigantic impenetrable wall and a whole army of mask-wearing gunmen separating them. It’s made abundantly clear that Will and Katie will do anything for their children, and that drives them to make some very risky, but honorable decisions, revealing new details about their situation and the state of Los Angeles in the process.
When a mission to track down their son goes awry, Will winds up face-to-face with Proxy Snyder (Peter Jacobson), a politician who’s aligned himself with the hosts. Snyder essentially blackmails Will into joining his cause and using his military skills to help him put an end to the resistance, with the promise that his family will remain safe. It’s a delicate situation that introduces one of the most powerful dilemmas of the episode; would you betray your kind and join their cause, or remain loyal and potentially lose loved ones?
At this point, Colony doesn’t feel like an alien invasion show. (And again, the pilot never specifies that these “hosts” are aliens.) The episode is packed with key information so when it wraps up, you certainly feel like you’ve got two feet firmly planted in this world. The writers take great care to ensure that all of the plot progressions are directly connected to the importance of family, but the narrative still feels a bit clunky and doesn’t have the connective tissue to facilitate a powerful build.
Regardless, the pilot is still engaging, suspenseful and brimming with potential. Cuse and Condal present an intriguing, unique and especially dynamic core premise that could prove to be more thoughtful than most invasion/post-apocalyptic scenarios, but the success of the story will undoubtedly depend on how they go about unveiling the “hosts.” All of the big reveals in the pilot episode are quite blunt, but they get away with it because they’re just presenting what the characters already know. They’re going to have to take a much more delicate approach when they start to dig into what’s really going on.
★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism.
Colony premieres Thursday, January 14th on USA.