If an alien invasion happens and no one is there to see it, does it happen? And more importantly, is it even interesting? For a lot of Invasion, the new series on Apple TV+ from Simon Kinberg and David Weil, that’s what we’re asked. It’s certainly been a question asked before in films like A Quiet Place. Even shows like The Walking Dead, which, while not about aliens, has always been more about the machinations of the human survivors than the external threat of the zombies.
This is the central concept of the show, which aims to focus more on an Invasion from the perspective of ordinary people (well, one is a member of a Space Agency) rather than taking us into the governmental situation rooms or the cockpits of fighter jets shooting down alien craft.
Invasion follows five central characters, ambitiously positioned across the globe - two in the US, one in the UK, one in Afghanistan and one in Japan. From the get-go, it’s certainly refreshing to see stories from across the world rather than a (usually American) single-country storyline.
In episode 1, we meet Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani), a mother of two who discovers early on her husband is having an affair. This is shortly after rescuing her kids from school after an outbreak of nosebleeds strangely avoids her son. We also see John (Sam Neil), a local sheriff who is retiring but begins to reconsider after discovering a vast crop circle and being attacked by a swarm of insects. Then there’s Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna), a member of the control deck at ‘JASA’, the made-up name for Japan’s Space Program. She is thrown into the midst of all this after disaster befalls her astronaut girlfriend’s space flight.
In episode 2, we are introduced to Casper (Billy Barratt), a kid who has epilepsy whose class trip ends in disaster when objects rain down from above. Finally, we meet Trevante (Shamier Anderson), a special forces op stationed in Afghanistan (yes, this was written before the disastrous pullout from that region and no, knowing that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable). He and his team encounter something huge while on a mission.
The first episode has some nice touches of foreboding, like the children all suffering nosebleeds, the very unsubtle crop circle and swarm of insects. It’s initially intriguing. Unfortunately, after that premiere, the rest of the series moves at a glacial pace, especially the first half. As I mentioned before, it’s good to focus on ordinary people, but the problem is, these people aren’t that interesting. The one constant arc that manages to hold your interest is surrounding Mitsuki and her strive to find out not only what happened up in space but how to get her lover back. It’s anchored by a wonderful performance from Kutsuna and benefits from having a solid sense of direction. You know what she wants, and her constant fight to try and achieve it makes it engaging.
The same can’t be said for the other four stories. Casper spends a lot of time stranded with his classmates in the middle of the countryside, where they all quite quickly descend into a version of Lord of the Flies. Also, with Aneesha, we spend so much time on her deciding whether she’ll give her husband the boot or her husband trying to run away from his family and join his lover. He’s an awful person, and you find yourself praying for him to get beamed up rather than caring what else is going on with Aneesha.
Over in Afghanistan, Trevante starts as part of an incredibly annoying group of ‘bros’. He has a wife back home and is having commitment issues. But of course. When his team are attacked, he’s left stranded and has to fight for himself. You would think this would make him more humble, but he still walks around pointing his gun at any local who comes near him in what is at best uncomfortable to watch and at worst pretty disgusting.
You kind of feel sorry for Anderson, who really gives the role his all but is often stuck with a limiting scope of character. It’s a frequent theme in the show; Farahani is really watchable as a conflicted mother frantically trying to protect her family. Additionally, a good performance by Barratt as a bullied but determined kid is backed up by a breakout performance by India Brown as an ally against bully Monty (yes, that’s Tom Holland’s brother Paddy). She’s a breath of fresh air amongst the majority male contingent on the school trip, quite happily calling out the petty bullshit and name-calling.
I also can’t be the only one to be disappointed by how little Sam Neil’s character features. Neil is one of those actors that always holds your attention, and when he’s in the show, he and his storyline are great. Strangely, that isn't very often.
Frequently scenes involve characters agonising over something or arguing about something else. This would be ok if what they had conflicts about was truly interesting, but this is where the show fails in its ambitions.
As well as Mitsuki, there is one exception. About midway through the season, we’re treated to a half-hour episode centred around a home invasion. It’s not original by any stretch, but it’s thrilling, fun, and you can’t take your eyes away. The character dynamics work and build on the almost horror movie filming.
Despite what I’ve said, this isn’t an awful show, but that’s also what makes it more frustrating. If it was horrible, you could maybe hate-watch it; however, except for one episode, occasional moments and Mitsuki’s story, it just doesn’t raise any excitement. The performances are frequently good, and the music (including a fantastic theme) by Max Richter (The Leftovers) is excellent. Still, if you intend to focus on regular people, they should be exciting stories to watch. You also keep wondering, if you’re watching a show called ‘Invasion’, shouldn’t there be more actual, er, invading?
This review originally appeared on Screen Times.