This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason Though the show doesn't premiere on USA until several hours after publish time, the network has made it available in advance of air on several on demand platforms.
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What Is This Thing?
In a Los Angeles of the not-so-distant future, where a mysterious force has taken over the human population and installed an authoritarian proxy government of human collaborators, Will, Katie, and their children Bram and Grace must learn to accept their new normal...or must they?!
When Is It On?
Thursdays at 10:00 PM ET on USA.
Why Was It Made Now?
I guess the paranoia of dystopic YA book series-turned-movies like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner has finally started to affect these teen readers' parents, because speculative TV series about what it's like to be occupied by a foreign power are so hot right now, between this and The Man In The High Castle.
What's Its Pedigree?
The series was created by Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel, The Strain) and Ryan J. Condal (whose only other notable credit on IMDb is the screenplay for 2014's Hercules -- and that starred The Rock, so Condal just ticked up like fifty notches in my estimation). Our series leads are Josh Holloway (Lost), Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead, Prison Break); Peter Jacobson (House) plays Snyder, the proxy governor; C.S.I.'s Paul Guilfoyle shows up at the end in a role that promises to get bigger as the story goes on.
Since my interest in basic-cable sci-fi shows is limited, I didn't head into this with especially high expectations, and I was surprised to find it pretty compelling. The pilot does a very competent job of building this world, opening on the central family at home getting ready for work and school, and then slowly panning out to show us that this isn't Los Angeles as we know it: there's razor wire along the top of the back yard fence; Will has an ID strapped to his upper arm. Spookiest of all, the streets are deserted -- in Los Angeles -- except for paramilitary vehicles. By the end of the cold open we've learned that Santa Monica and Los Angeles have been divided into Blocs by the occupiers (who, in a smart decision by the production, we don't see at all or even really hear described; all we see is evidence of their tech, like armed surveillance drones and a distant explosion), and that Will and Katie were separated during the "Arrival" from their third child, a twelve-year-old boy named Charlie, with Will going to extreme measures to try to find him in restricted Santa Monica.
Will's storyline is more showy and intrepid, which is why I'm glad the pilot focused a lot more on Katie, and the day-to-day challenges she has to handle as a subject of the occupation. Following a lead for some home-brewed insulin, for instance, gives us a glimpse at the underground economy, and when the deal goes bad, she readily takes control in a way we can tell she never would have considered in her previous life. I've never thought Callies was anything but annoying in previous roles I've seen her play, but her Katie is refreshingly competent, and by the end of the episode we find out that she's actually much braver than her husband.
The promos reveal that Will -- controversially -- takes a job working for the proxy government; before the occupation, he was basically an FBI bounty hunter, and Snyder wants him to do the same thing here, dismantling a Resistance that has been taking violent action against proxy forces. If you've seen The Grey Zone (which you should, though it's not exactly a super-fun experience), you know that collaboration with a corrupt regime is immoral, and that's basically Katie's position here. But Will agrees to work for Snyder on the condition that Charlie is returned to his family -- which Snyder dangles as a possible reward for exceptional results. (Jacobson, by the way, is having a great time, and his smarmy Snyder enters the mostly pretty dour pilot at the perfect time to inject a little humour.) "This is why you don't have kids!" I yelled as this bargain is struck. Adults can understand taking potentially dangerous principled stances, but you can't just do that if you're a parent and you might get killed and orphan or otherwise endanger your children! It's just not worth it! My prejudices aside: the episode does well validating both Katie's and Will's more or less opposite responses to this situation.
There's some business with Bram, the couple's teenaged son, doing a little gray market barter at school. But he's not in the episode much and that is the correct decision on producers' parts.
Josh Holloway is (a) not that interesting a performer and (b) STILL HAS HIS SAWYER HAIR. He's pushing fifty! It's unseemly! His whole storyline in this episode is already pretty rote -- rough conditions for inmates, tough-guy posturing with a dude who could have him killed -- and now that it's established that future episodes are going to have him doing typical cop-procedural things, I care about Will even less.
Then there's the special effects. As I mentioned above, the production doesn't overreach by trying to make us believe in CG aliens or whatever the hell when obviously a basic-cable budget would not allow for that to be convincing. But there's still a moment early on where we see the aftermath of a vehicle explosion and it really looks cheap.
Finally, while Bram isn't in it that much, there are hints that there's a girl at school he particularly likes, and as we all know from Homeland, you can't create a world in which adults are doing shit that might get them killed at any moment and then toss in a pile of teenage romance.
I kind of expected it to be as boring and terrible as the network's Dig, which I think we turned off before the cold open was even over. This is better than that, but my TV time is precious and limited and this wasn't so great that I personally feel I really need to see more.