In Its Second Season, Apple TV+’s Invasion Remains One of TV’s Most Intriguing Terrible ShowsPhoto Courtesy of Apple TV+ TV Reviews Invasion
I was almost ashamed of myself, at the end of the first episode of the second season of Invasion, that I wanted to watch another. This feeling came again with the conclusion of the second episode, but with an even more profound sense of guilt and self-loathing.
You see, Invasion is not a good show. The production values are good, giving it that false prestige patina, and sometimes the acting is passable, but the writing and the plot are so atrociously bad that there’s not even a shadow of an argument you can make to redeem it. What you have to know, entering the second season, is that aliens with superior technology—they can, after all, raid other planets—have invaded Earth and killed a bunch of people and taken over some of the land. But only some of the land, mind you; despite the fact that they’re miles ahead of humanity in every conceivable way, somehow the situation has devolved into a land-war-with-Russia level morass, where humans can fly around with impunity and also the aliens can be killed by fire, or something.
That is, by far, the least confusing version of this story I can give you. To try to describe the plot machinations after this is just disappearing down a byzantine maze to a metaphorical (or possibly real) hell. It’s made worse by the fact that they use the technique of vaguely interconnecting stories, which means you have to keep track of a Japanese woman who is upset about a dead astronaut but might be able to communicate with aliens, an American ex-soldier who just drives around getting into trouble, some kids in England who might be magic, a really annoying tech billionaire, a band of outlaws in the northwest who team up with a very protective mother and her two kids, and…I could go on. They’re going for a kind of Leftovers-style mystique, but it is one giant miss after another.
You know that Tolstoy quote about how all happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way? For TV, I think you can reverse it—despite the chaos of the actual narrative, the failures are pretty simple. The dialogue is unimaginably cliche, there are plot contrivances every few seconds (you can’t imagine how many people are stumbling into a convenient room at the right time, or finding some key revelation on the Internet), the relationships and character motivations make no sense, and much of the acting is tragic, though I won’t single anyone out because it’s hard to envision even Laurence Olivier looking good with some of this material. It’s the usual blunders, in other words, albeit magnified to epic proportions.
It’s the kind of failure that can get a little irritating, at least for me, because Apple TV+ has been killing it almost since the start of their existence, and the idea of a sophisticated alien invasion show from them is so appealing. To have it be an unmitigated disaster is not only disappointing on the most basic level, but starts to provoke fears that they’re going the way of Netflix, where at some point good writing ceased to be a priority. The fact that there’s a second season of Invasion is, itself, bad news, because it means the first must have been a success on some level. The fear creeps in—are they going to learn the wrong lesson from this?
And yet, as mentioned above, there’s still something compelling about this show. The closest comparison might be to The Walking Dead, which trafficked in its own cliches but managed to be eminently watchable through most of its run. Make no mistake, though—that show was far more disciplined and far less haphazard than Invasion. The thing that makes us want to stick with Invasion, in the hope that it might improve, is probably as simple as the premise and production; it’s a good idea for a story, and it looks good. In several ways, Apple TV+ took a big swing here, and a big swing has a kind of magnetic power, even if that swing ends in an embarrassing miss.
It’s just the latest object lesson teaching us the same old principle: You can’t skimp on the writing. And why would you, when it’s obvious everything else costs so much? This is the great mystery of failed prestige television, at least from where I sit. There is so much putting the cart before the horse, and when you rack your brain as to why this keeps happening, the only thing that makes sense is that someone or multiple someones in charge just don’t think, deep in their hearts, that the writing is really that important.
Well, it is. And that nugget of interest that Invasion maintains in its viewers only ends up adding to the frustration, because it’s like a shadow illustration of what might have been. It’s baffling how it ever earned a second season, and while it may function adequately as guilty pleasure TV for some, it stands out finally as a show about aliens that never comes close to understanding its humans.
Invasion premieres Wednesday, August 23rd on Apple TV+.
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