Usually shows that are shuttled to the midseason lack their network’s full confidence, so when Colony, the latest offering from prolific producer Carlton Cuse, was absent from USA Network’s fall slate, I grew worried. The story of an alien occupation of Earth set in Los Angeles is the long-destined collaboration between Cuse and fellow LOST alum Josh Hollway, who played Cuse’s favorite character on the series, James “Sawyer” Ford. That kind of creative kismet couldn’t have possibly resulted in disappointment…could it have?
Thanks to a clever social media campaign that rewards loyal followers (read: users who promote the series and share its account’s content), I was able to learn the answer to that question a month before the show’s premiere on January 14th, 2016. An extremely well-crafted pilot that harnesses the considerable talents of Cuse and Holloway potentially positions Colony as the next great television science fiction drama.
Opening on another beautiful morning in LA, series co-creator, executive producer, and episode writer Ryan Condal (Hercules) and director Juan Jose Campanella (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, House M.D., Halt and Catch Fire) ease us into the latest version of the post-apocalypse in American entertainment. Holloway’s Will Sullivan prepares breakfast for his idealic nuclear family—wife Katie, played by Sarah Wayne Callies (most known for her portrayal of Lori Grimes on The Walking Dead), teenage son Bram (Alex Neustaedter), and young daughter Gracie (Isabella Corvetti-Cramp, The Neighbors, Joy).What separates this turn to dystopia from similar fare such as Callies’ The Walking Dead is the immediate limitation of its scope.
We never see the assumed-to-be alien occupiers, anywhere outside of the Los Angeles Zone, or anything outside of the experiences of Will and his family. More importantly, protagonists Will and Katie embody the conflict posed by the series, and their choices are comprehensible because the values that motivate them are shown. As Will’s co-worker at the auto repear shop tells him, “This is the worst part of it, you know, the families—husbands separated from wives, parents from children…We could take a lot worse if it wasn’t for that.” Both Will and Katie just want to protect their family from an occupation that has already stolen their 12 year old son. The situation they’re presented with, however, leads them to a difference in approaches that promises to push them to the point of not being able to take t.
Holloway and Callies embody the tenuous turmoil by turning to the strengths of their previously iconic roles. As Katie, Callies is strong, decisive, and determined without falling into the destructive emotionalism that made Lori a fan-least-favorite on The Walking Dead. As Will, Holloway is Southern, smart-mouthed, and smolderingly angry—a welcome return to form for Holloway after CBS’s Intelligence curiously tried to make him controlled and clean cut. What sets Will apart from Sawyer, though, is that his anger comes from a justifiable outrage, not unaddressed pain from his traumatic childhood. Whoever these occupiers are, they’ve completely imposed their will on Earth or, at the very least, Los Angeles County, California.
The world-building that’s done for the occupied society demonstrates a deep knowledge of both history and dystopic literature on the part of Cuse and Condal. The occupiers remain faceless, instead represented by the collaborators who are personified in Proxy Snyder (Peter Jacobson, House M.D.) a bureaucrat who reassures Will and Katie that the aliens are there to help and will leave once they have what they need. Snyder executes the occupiers will with the thin veneer of businessman, but everyone knows his true power is vested in the violence that is unleashed on lawbreakers, most notably when they are sent to the ominously-named factory.
If Colony were merely constructed in a factory, it has all the hallmarks of a genre retread. Instead, it is the novel creation of a hot Hollywood hand who keeps hitting home runs (Cuse) and relative unknown (Condal). Together the duo, with their strong cast, makes the viewer feel the frustration and desperation of Will and Katie as they’re forced to choose between two sides that seem equally dangerous, the resistance and the collaborators, to figure out what the best thing to do for their family is—and what’s best is impossible to figure out.
It’s the question the show asks its audience as Will exasperatedly throws his hands in the air at Katie after telling her about his meeting with Proxy Snyder:
“Well what would you do?”
I would, and will, keep watching.