Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lost Treasures: Shaun Cassidy's Invasion (2005-2006)

“Mommy. You smell different.” (Rose Varon to her mother, Mariel, on Invasion)

According To Jim was on the air for eight seasons featuring 'fat guy, hot wife.' Two and a Half Men? It’s now plowing through its eighth laugh-free season. CSI: Miami? We've been nine years and counting watching David Caruso put on his sunglasses (or is it taking them off ... or is it both?). These shows are drivel. Uninspired, insipid, poorly scripted and acted. How many seasons did Shaun Cassidy's completely brilliant show, Invasion, get? One.

I'm not going to condemn the viewers for their lack of taste (that's too easy, because smart shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Big Love, True Blood, Battlestar Galatica, etc., had or continue to have long runs – albeit on cable). Rather, I just shake my head at Invasion's bad timing. It came on the air about a month after Hurrican Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and, as if the hurricane was the show's fault, the media took it to task. High production costs were another factor. At the end of its only season, Invasion's ratings were no worse than According to Jim's, but ATJ cost a buck ninety to produce, while Invasion ran over $2 million per. It died due to economics and the blindness of the ABC studio heads.

Invasion was about the world we live in now: blended families (divorced couples still attached because of children) attempting to cope with each other; trying to maintain ones individuality in a world that wants you to conform; coming to terms with changes in your body as you age; the painful struggles of teenage boys and girls growing up too fast; the dangerous post 9/11 world where terror can come from abroad, above or your next-door neighbour. It just happened to be wrapped in a science-fiction frame.

William Fichtner as Tom Underlay
The basic premise of Cassidy's show is simple: the small town of Homestead in the Florida everglades, just south of Miami, is pummelled by Hurricane Eve. Hidden within the storm are orange-glowing amphibious creatures that descend from the heavens and escape into the water. After the storm subsides, several people are reported missing, but soon turn up, disoriented but generally okay. Or so it seems. Supposedly leading the town out of the disaster is the local sheriff, Tom Underlay (William Fichtner). Surrounding him are his doctor wife, Mariel (Kari Matchett); park ranger and ex-husband of Mariel, Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian); Russell's reporter-wife, Larkin Groves (Lisa Sheridan); Larkin's alien-conspiracy-loving brother, Dave (Tyler Labine); and three children: Jesse and Rose (Evan Peters and Ariel Gade), Mariel and Russell's children; and Kira Underlay (Alexis Dziena), Tom's daughter from his first marriage (Tom's first wife was dead).

In the conventional SF thriller, there would be two sides: the good humans and the bad aliens (see the current re-do series, V, for an example). One of the many thrilling things about Cassidy's creation is that it isn't that simple. We soon learn that Tom Underlay is 'one of them,' turned ten years previous. He was the only survivor of a plane crash into the Everglades that killed his wife. As he lay trapped in his airplane seat, he was taken. Think of him as an 'advance scout' for the current alien invasion. During the hurricane, Mariel has now been 'changed' too. At first, it seems Tom and Mariel are going to be the antagonists to Russell, Larkin and Dave's protagonists, and in fact that is the scenario in the first two episodes. But then something odd happens. Mariel knows she's different somehow, but she can't really comprehend how. And neither do the other people who recently turned, such as the local priest (Ivar Brogger). All they know is that they are attracted to water (and water has never been more beautifully shot than it is here) and many of their inhibitions have been shed.

Kari Matchett
Borrowing ideas from the first two Invasion of the Body Snatchers (including casting Veronica Cartwright from the 1978 version as one of the 'changed') and the John W. Campbell novella, Who Goes There? that was the basis for both versions of The Thing, Invasion reveals early on that the creatures in the water capture the humans, absorb their DNA and personalities into their own and then combine into one human-looking being. The former humans just don't quite know they are no longer fully human. Tom Underlay's character, changed 10 years prior, is the guide and handler for these 'new humans.' Are these new humans the next stage of in our evolution (this is just one of the many ideas that burble beneath the surface of this show – it's referred to in the show as the Cambrian Explosion)?

I could go on, but I don't want to steal the show's thunder. Instead I'm going to give a few hints into the qualities of this show. One of the changed is played by Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss (it's always fascinating to watch an old show and see a performer you've now come to know appearing as a complete unknown in an earlier program). Moss's character was the dutiful wife, mother and daughter-in-law. That is until she changed. The change was not good for her; it let her monstrous thoughts loose on the world. Moss's performance is simply terrifying. Alexis Dziena is at first the typical popular high school girl. After her world changes, she finds herself alone and isolated. She turns to her step-brother, Jesse for support, but it is not enough. As she observes what she thinks are the 'improvements' in those who are changed, she asks 'why can't that happen to me?' It is sad and mournful. The consequences of her thinking are harrowing. William Fichtner, as the man/alien trying to find ways for his people to live with the humans, has a tricky rode to walk. He finds that perfect balance between ruthlessness and compassion. There's a scene late in the series where he eliminates a fellow alien who is, shall we say, on the wrong path. He is both righteous and unnerving in his ferocity. It's moments like this that you know he is not a man to be trifled with. Eddie Cibrian, before he got mired in the current tabloid hell due to his personal life, shows here that he could be a solid, believable lead. Kari Matchett is wonderful as she struggles to comprehend the changes that she is going through. Ariel Gade as little Rose (she was 8 when the show shot) is exactly what a child actor in a show should be: a child. There isn't a false note in her performance. She is eight and she acts eight. What a relief. That is also a huge compliment to the writers for getting her dialogue right (Cassidy wrote or co-wrote several of the episodes).

Speaking of dialogue, here's a brief snippet (there's a lot like this) that demonstrates the smarts of the writing. At one point, after encountering the changed Elisabeth Moss, Tom Underlay says to his deputy: “We all have the potential to go to the darkest place. Some of us remember to leave a light on.”

Elizabeth Moss
As with any show, some individual episodes are stronger than others. One such episode is “Redemption.” Underlay is shot, and as he lies at the brink between life and death, we see a mildly surreal flashback of his origins from 10 years ago, and the beginning of his love affair with Mariel. Another was the first episode to feature Elisabeth Moss, “The Cradle.” Moss's performance was obviously a career maker. Finally, there's the episode “Us or Them.” I don't want to say too much, but suffice it to say, something interesting happens when a man who lost his arm in the Iraq War gets 'taken.' The quality of the show's writing and acting is best summed up here because it could have been ridiculous, but instead it becomes very moving.

Lastly, I want to discuss how it ended, but I’ll be vague. The final episodes were quite satisfying and the show zipped along, filling in story details and mythologies. The show was also not afraid to let both sides look pretty bad. The aliens are not warm and fuzzy, and neither are the humans. They both do things to each other that are pretty terrible – not unlike real life. As the show's ratings slumped, its network wouldn't reveal to Cassidy if the show was going to be renewed. It was, as they say, “on the bubble,” so he wrote an ending that kinda/sorta could have wrapped up the show. But he also left it open enough just in case it continued. Unfortunately, the axe fell after the final episode was long shot so there was nothing to be done. Yes, the finale is unsatisfying because the seeds Cassidy planted about what the second season could have been about were very exciting indeed.

However, over the years I've become somewhat sanguine about how it finishes. I have seen too many shows come and go that had a great first season and then the subsequent seasons 'slashed their canvas': Jericho, 24 and Lost are just three (though I think Lost saved its ass in its last season, but only just). I would have loved more, but as it exists now, Invasion will always be 'what could have been' instead of 'man, did they ever fuck that up.' I can live with that, but I won't say I'm happy about it. Treat yourself to this lost treasure; it's long been available on DVD or Netflix.

David Churchill is a film critic and author of the novel The Empire of Death. You can read an excerpt here. Or go to for more information.


  1. What I wanna know is, why do the families carry on treating the hybrids like they are just their loved ones but changed? Arent they a copy of their loved ones, who are actually left to rot in the everglades?

  2. Well, i saw that show only now, and i cant understantd how they cancelled it! It's really good, and in so many ways different from what we see this days... and Bill Fichtner...what an excellente actor..
    I hope that someday (even isnt't probabily) they make a season 2, to end that finalle with tom and larkin on that situation...

    Anyone heard something about a chance to a season2? Or even anyone knows why the show was cancelled?

    (sorry for the english =P)

  3. Well, i'm french and i love this show.. The writing was great (thanks to Shaun Cassidy), the acting was great (Fichtner, Cibrian, Matchett, Labine are outsanding) and i love the music too (thanks to Jon Ehrlich and Jason Derlatka). S. Cassidy conceived the show for five season and it is a shame that ABC cancelled this masterpiece.

    I hope a sequel/season 2 someday :( Thank you Mr Cassidy for this great show.

    P.S: Great review Mr :)

  4. I bought this dvd, and it's forever a favorite. I hope for a remake/reboot in the near future. If I was rich, I would hire this cast & crew to create a proper ending for all you fans! Love!

  5. Excellent show and a crime they never went past one season eh!

  6. I agree, this show was riveting and could have / would have built a huge following if they would have given it a chance. So much of the same boring stuff on TV these days, this was a refreshing change. Hopefully Grimm doesn't meet the same fate.

  7. This Story was too near to the Reality! That is what i think.