Hit or Sh**: USA’s COLONY

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

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Only 10 minutes into the pilot episode of COLONY, it’s clear that USA’s newest series fancies itself a critical darling. Straddling countless genres at once, the show borrows from just about every decent apocalyptic sci-fi thriller in recent memory, and it does so with such brazen confidence that you practically feel conditioned to like it. The trouble is, despite a compelling enough narrative and strong performances, the show is terribly mediocre.

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The only thing Josh Holloway is more committed to than Carlton Cuse is this timeless Keith Urban aesthetic

The pilot opens in the not-so-distant future where an extraterrestrial regime has imposed military occupancy on Earth, or at least Los Angeles. The city’s neighborhoods are walled off from one another, creating heavily regimented (and impressively production-designed) “blocs.” Humans are left defenseless with bikes as their only mode of transportation and payphones their only form of communication. Husband and father of three Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) sets out to find his missing son, who disappeared shortly after the alien takeover (referred to as “the arrival” far too frequently), only to be arrested after an ill-fated attempt to smuggle himself into the Santa Monica bloc. In a refreshing change of Hollywood’s gender politics, the top-billed Holloway plays second fiddle to Sarah Wayne Callies’ Katie Bowman, Will’s wife, who navigates the underground bartering ring to provide for her family and then goes on a dangerous search to find Will when he doesn’t come home.

Though the story is moderately paced, the rapid-fire delivery of exposition and lexicon is whiplash-inducing. We learn that the “raps” are the unseen aliens that invaded about a year ago. The humans are divided into several classes: the “red hats,” militant policemen who enforce curfew and other oppressive laws; “proxies,” the cherry-picked elite; “collaborators,” who work with their oppressors to maintain peace; and “the resistance,” an underground (and potentially radical) army of Katniss Everdeens. (Will your jaw drop if I tell you Katie and Will are part of the resistance?) And these so-called “factories”? Well, they seem to be internment camps, which is far from the pilot’s only allusion to Nazism.

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I can’t remember the last time I saw a good side braid in fictional dystopian universe… Oh, wait…

None of this, however, is spelled out. In fact, COLONY seems to delight itself on posing questions it has no intention of answering in a timely or satisfactory manner. It should come as no surprise that the show is the latest brainchild of LOST creator Carlton Cuse, and just like its predecessor, COLONY will likely outgrow its britches in no time. So even if LOST didn’t leave you drowning in your own tears of frustration, this show might just finish the job.

The cast works overtime to sell these extraordinary circumstances as reality, and they succeed, which is impressive for a show that very clearly values plot over character. Callies expertly transitions from unassuming mother to rebellious badass while Holloway strives to deliver the same multi-faceted performance he gave in LOST, even if this new character simply doesn’t have depth yet. Both leads skillfully elevate their characters beyond tedious and otherwise bland dialog, which helps distract from the lack of any real substance.

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Despite this visual, this subplot fails to deliver on a reenactment of “Summer Nights” from GREASE

Despite the admirable efforts of its cast and a seemingly big art department budget (cable has never looked so good), COLONY operates on the decorative intricacies of its plot and the prestige of its creator. Even the plot twist in which Will becomes a double agent and agrees to expose the resistance to the proxies in order to find his son fails to add enough original flair to this bland patchwork of recycled narratives. While I’m hesitant to write it off altogether (who wouldn’t want to get a look at those raps, whenever that might be?), COLONY certainly isn’t the weekly hour of groundbreaking television it promises.

Verdict: Sh** Probation

COLONY airs on Thursdays on USA

Tommy Ryan

Tommy is a writer and beloved local icon of the Greater LA area. He greets every morning by listening to Britney Spears and encourages everybody to unleash their inner Poot.

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