TV ain’t evil

Not all writers bemoan the existence of television as a corrosive force inevitably at odds with book reading. I’m not afraid to admit that I love television! Well, let me restate that. I love good television. There certainly is an overwhelming amount of junk food programming out there. I’ve never been able to stomach most reality shows (though Wipeout cracks me up and Project Runway is creative). I can no longer sit through serialized crime dramas. They’re all the same thing now. They use the old formula but throw in some of the disturbing imagery that was once groundbreaking when we saw it in Millennium. So when I find a show that pulls me in, I become pretty loyal and greatly frustrated when typically, it gets cancelled.

 

Invasion was one such show. The series aired at the time I was writing Zombie Blondes and it was far and away my favorite new show of the season that year. It was one of several shows that got the green light after the initial success of Lost. There was a whole wave of these continuous story type programs to hit the networks that fall. Most of them weren’t any good, but I thought Invasion was extremely well done. I sort of forgot how good it was, but thanks to the Chiller cable channel, which has been re-running the show the past few weeks, I’m remembering.

Invasion took what was great about Lost and also learned from some of its mistakes. Like Lost, it kept to a core set of characters and one big idea that gets revealed through telling a bunch of smaller stories. Now that I’m watching it again, I see that it was a little smatter in revealing that bigger story at a faster clip. You learn more about the alien creatures in each episode. The sheriff-as-lead-alien plot builds quickly too as does Mariel’s transformation. With every episode, the viewer feels like they’re learning something (and gasp!…so do the characters). The show was also better at introducing new characters while never straying too far from the family unit that is the center of the show.

Like Lost, the characters are the real story. In this case, it’s a two remarried exes (Russell and Mariel), their new spouses (Larkin and Sheriff Underlay) and their children (Jesse, Rose, and Kira). The family dynamic, with all its complications and issues, is very well done. It’s rare that you’ll see the parents’ issues and the kids’ issues both handled with the same depth and care. My So-Called Life is one great example of that did that well and surprise, it was cancelled too. Invasion does this as well. Here the teenagers are just as compelling as the adults. And never once do I feel like those issues are at odds with the bigger story. In Jericho for example (another show that rode the same wave, and another show I loved), the family issues felt pretty conventional and sometimes corny. When they’d pop up in each episode, I found myself begging them to just get on with the action.

I’ve always looked at these serialized shows as being television novels whereas other shows are short stories with reoccurring characters. Like a novel, there needs to be attention to pacing in terms of unfolding the story. There also needs to be depth to the characters. They can’t be flat the way they can in a crime drama or sitcom. Invasion nails all of these things. There’s a lot that have tried, but few succeed. Lost is one. Battlestar Galactica is one. Twin Peaks is certainly one.

Invasion definitely captured my imagination the one season it aired. I remember thinking that I wanted the mood of Zombie Blondes to have a similar eerie feel. I’m glad it’s on again even if it’s only the same episodes I’ve already seen. It’s been great to watch while waiting for next fall’s crop of shows I’ll love…only to see them cancelled after one year.


Brian James is the author of several notable books including Pure Sunshine and Dirty Liar. He lives in a small town in upstate New York that may or may not be overrun with zombies. His new book, Zombie Blondes, is now available from Square Fish.

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