The extended trailer for Colony, the glossy futuristic thriller that debuted on USA Network Thursday night, seemed to promise something yawningly predictable: a show about a swarthy hero (played by the apparently ageless Josh Holloway) navigating the streets of a dystopian Los Angeles to look for his missing son. A classic hero’s journey, in other words, only with drones, and some kind of mysterious occupation, and a big beautiful wall dividing the city.
The reality, as revealed in a twist at the first episode’s end (spoilers ahead, although nothing drastic because the whole series remains shrouded in mystery) is that the show is actually something far more intriguing. Holloway’s swarthy hero Will is there, sure, but it turns out he isn’t the hero. He’s the utterly basic, beefcake-ish foil to his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), a more incalculable and intriguing member of the resistance that her husband’s been tasked with infiltrating. It’s a plot twist, but it’s also, rather gratifyingly, a conceptual one: What was supposed to be a generic, Tom Cruise-ish alien drama is actually a show about the moral and ethical intricacies of marriage.
If that sounds familiar (hello, The Americans), then it’s important to note that Colony, which was created by Lost’s Carlton Cuse with Ryan J. Condal, is derivative of virtually every critically acclaimed genre show and movie from the last decade, sucking in tropes from detective dramas and spy stories and dystopian thrillers and sci-fi and historical adaptations and action movies so it can recycle them into a densely plotted, tension-ridden whole. What’s surprising is that it works so well. Nothing is particularly original except the show’s focus on Katie, a mother of three children, one of whom was lost when an event alluded to as “The Arrival” happened a year or so ago. While Will might have been the face used to sell and promote the show, he’s not even close to being the character it’s most interested in exploring.