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Invasion: The Complete Series

It's a gamble to fall in love with a TV series, especially if it's science fiction. As SF fanboys and fangirls have long known, the odds are against you — sci-fi is expensive to produce, and it rarely attracts the audience numbers to justify the expense to bean-counting network execs. So it wasn't surprising that after just one season of solid, consistently riveting storytelling, ABC axed the Shaun Cassidy-produced Invasion, arguably one of the best dramas of the 2005-2006 television season. Cassidy's been through this before — his equally excellent "American Gothic" (1995) suffered a similar fate. But the numbers were just never enough to satisfy the suits at the alphabet network — even after they positioned it to follow the wildly successful "Lost," viewers just never showed up. Never mind that the "Lost"/"Invasion" two-fer was a bad idea — following one complicated, cerebral drama with a large cast with another may have demanded a little too much commitment from Joe & Jane Couch Potato. The show was given the boot (reluctantly, according to one ABC source) and sent off to the Museum of Sci-Fi That Didn't Last.

The show, what there was of it, was smart, creepy and addictive — When a hurricane hits the Gulf Coast, a number of residents of the town of Homestead, Fla., are found naked and disoriented in the aftermath, and they don't quite feel like themselves. Park ranger Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian) juggles his responsibilities as local law enforcement with his concern for the safety of his family, including new wife Larkin (Lisa Sheridan) and kids Jesse and Rose (Evan Peters and Ariel Gade). But he can't help puzzling over the strange changes that have affected the residents, including his ex-wife, Dr. Mariel Underlay (Kari Matchett), who's now married to the town's control-freak sheriff, Tom Underlay (William Fichtner). The first clue that the locals may be suffering from something more sinister than shell-shock comes when Russell's conspiracy nut brother-in-law Dave (Tyler Labine) finds a strange skeleton in the water — combined with reports of weird lights in the water on the night of the hurricane, it slowly becomes apparent that something not of this world has come for a visit, and that the victims of the hurricane may not be 100 percent human anymore.

Coming as it did, by sheer coincidence, during the same period that the southern U.S. was hit by Hurricane Katrina, the creepy War of the Worlds-meets-Invasion of the Body Snatchers plot of Invasion had an eerie resonance. As did the increasingly paranoid conspiracy angle of the story, since it was revealed that there were government entities who were not only aware of the aliens' intentions, but were manipulating events for their own ends. Executive producer Cassidy obviously has an affection for creepy anti-heroes — "American Gothic" starred Gary Cole as a sinister town sheriff, making him one of the most unpleasant yet watchable lead characters in TV history — and Invasion's treatment of Fichtner's cop is intriguingly complex. Initially presented as a creep and a menace, as Season One progressed, Underlay's true motives became more clear, making a 180-degree turn by the season finale when he and Russell joined forces. Fichtner is one of the finest character actors working today, and his ability to evince charm, menace, confusion, subterfuge, and bravery — sometimes all in the course of one episode — made Underlay the show's most fascinating character. Invasion was exceptional in that it examined all aspects of the alien insurgence — the effect on the community as the unchanged residents viewed their altered neighbors with suspicion, fear, and even jealousy; the question of whether a forced evolution of the human species was a threat or an improvement; and the emotional complications that come when a loved one isn't the same being that they once were, even though they retain all of the same feelings, memories, and ideals as they did before. Sadly ending on a spectacular cliffhanger, we'll probably never find out what happens next to the citizens of Homestead — but that one season was a hell of a ride.

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Warner Home Video's Invasion DVD box set offers the entire first season — "The Complete Series," as it says on the cover — and the 22 episodes, presented on six discs, are gorgeous, presented in beautifully sharp anamorphic transfers (1.78:1) with excellent color saturation. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio (English, with subtitles in Spanish, French and Portuguese) is likewise excellent. Also on board is an interview with Cassidy about the production, an amusing "gag reel," and some deleted scenes. Multi-fold digipak.
—Dawn Taylor

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