"There are few things I enjoy more than a good setup," says Daniel Fienberg. "I loved the beginning of Lost, when it was all questions and no attempted explanations. I like the step-ups in Stephen King books, when everything is creepy and weird and insinuating, more than the conclusions when he decides to either burn everything down or randomly introduce a character whose apparent disability is actually magic. I think the first 45 minutes of War of the Worlds is one of the best things Steven Spielberg has ever directed, and when people mention that they hate the ending, I can usually pretend not to remember any of the details. Setups are a chance to watch the lightbulb go on in the head of a good storyteller, without needing to watch the filament flicker and fizzle under the weight of studio notes, test audience complaints or a simple surfeit of ideas. I enjoy a good setup so much that I’m confident that I’ve written multiple reviews with this exact same setup about enjoying a good setup. By rights, then, Apple TV+’s new drama Invasion should be my favorite show of the year. Hailing from David Weil (Hunters) and Simon Kinberg (various X-Men things), Invasion verges on 10 episodes of setup so pure and unfulfilling that a better title would be Evasion. The show unfolds as a process of endless tantalization that I found amusing at first, then annoying and, finally, simply confusing. Sent all 10 episodes, critics can at least charge forward into the void, but audiences trying to find the impetus for weekly viewing will struggle to find anything to latch onto."
Invasion will have you rooting for the aliens: "The first episode of Invasion, the new aliens-attack-Earth series premiering today on Apple TV+, gives you the impression that it will be a fairly rote entry in the genre of Devastating Alien Crisis Inspires Global Panic and Individual Resiliency," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "Sam Neill plays a small-town sheriff heading out for his last day on the job before retirement. He’s rueful. He wonders what life will look like now that he’s no longer on the force. But wait — what’s that inexplicable circle out in the cornfield, and why are the crows acting so strangely? Meanwhile, somewhere on Long Island, a harried suburban housewife played by Golshifteh Farahani runs on a treadmill and packs school lunches. Later that day, all the kids in music class — all except her son — will spontaneously experience intense nosebleeds. Weird! Invasion hits these beats with lumbering competence. Here is the doubting townsperson. Here is the guy in a desert in Yemen, drawn to a mysterious funneling in the sand. Here is a story about an important Japanese space launch, definitely not destined to be derailed by any sort of alien interference, no sir. What slowly dawns on you as Invasion continues, though, is that the story this show wants to tell has remarkably little to do with the alien invasion of Earth that is killing untold thousands (millions?) of people. From a generous point of view, this is a daring and unexpected stance for a show called Invasion. Intellectually, there is some appeal to the idea of an alien apocalypse story where none of the individual players ever really know what’s happening, there is little to no attempt at some higher-level summary of what aliens are doing to the world, and petty personal problems continually eclipse the urgency of human extinction."
Invasion will bore you to tears: "While Invasion’s lack of slam-bang spectacle isn’t, in and of itself, a shortcoming, the show’s decision to withhold any entertaining core element of its conceit proves wearisome," says Nick Schager. "That will undoubtedly change, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone sticking around that long. Kinberg and Weil seem to be operating from an older streaming-storytelling playbook that assumes that viewers can be counted on to finish everything they start. Yet what they fail to take into account is the fact that we currently live in an age of television overload, with a million different options available at the press of a button, and thus the ability to drop any small-screen diversion that doesn’t adequately satisfy our desires. It’s not until the end of the fifth episode that the U.S. president takes to the airwaves to announce that humanity is not alone in the universe, thereby finally transitioning the series into the very narrative terrain that should have been reached hours earlier. If you make it past that midway point, consider yourself more patient than me."
It's best to binge-watch Invasion, even though new episodes are released weekly: The Apple TV+ series' "expansive approach to an alien invasion, a genre that already comes packaged with the burden of worldbuilding the extraterrestrial threat, is too much for a ten-episode season of TV," says Alexis Nedd. "Invasion is aware of this, and packs those ten episodes with what feels like half of each character's arc instead of a whole story. The obvious assumption is that Invasion will get a second season and continue the story, but Season 1 sacrifices resolution for suspense and cuts off some of its stories right as they're about to get interesting." Nedd adds: "Like most Apple TV+ shows, Invasion will release three episodes on its premiere day and follow that drop with single episodes released weekly until the end. This is not the best format to enjoy what Invasion does well, and it exacerbates its less interesting qualities by dragging them out. Because of its slow burn and the necessity of splitting screen time between each story, Invasion would make a great one-and-done binge for anyone with an interest in the televised grandchild of invasion literature, but waiting each week for a modicum of progress in stories of different quality may be a hard sell. Luckily, all of Invasion Season 1 will be available to watch in a handful of weeks, so waiting it out and watching it all is well within everyone's ability. As long as the aliens don't attack before then."
Invasion spends considerable time laying the groundwork of capital i Intrigue instead of finding organic ways to flesh out its sprawling cast beyond it: "Despite its ominous title, Invasion makes a slow burn out of revealing its basic premise," says Caroline Framke. "You’d know more about the new drama by reading its logline — 'the series follows an alien invasion' — than by watching its first three episodes, which dropped Oct. 22 on Apple TV Plus. Though there’s something — or some thing? — creeps its way around the world by leveling buildings, smashing space stations, and giving kids nosebleeds, Invasion keeps its cards close to the chest. Rather than so much as utter the word 'alien' in these initial episodes, Invasion focuses on the global ripple effects of increasing panic — which might be fine, if it also did a decent job developing its many characters along the way."
Invasion is a thrilling show about people, not aliens: "Invasion sucks you in most when its playing with the morality of its imperfect characters, and magnifying the tension that they have with their environment and the people around them," says Nick Allen. "Shamier Anderson’s Trevante embodies this in particular as an American soldier in Afghanistan, who witnesses first-hand some of the bizarre alien activity but is also at odds against many locals who associate Americans with invaders themselves. Trevante does little to push against that; he’s stubborn and hostile in his own way of survival mode, pointing his rifle at civilians who end up tossing him water or food anyway. Anderson’s incredible performance shows the soldier’s physical wear during this moment, but it’s how he plays him so coldly that’s most effective, slowly developing a sense of humanity that isn’t bigger than his sense of being in control because he is American, and he has the gun. A lot about this character and his context is ugly, and Invasion keeps it that way. But because the show's focus is so close-up on what a character is doing and how they treat others, there are certain crashing waves of hope that come in place of despair. One of the series’ best scenes involves a moment with an Afghan man in the desert who offers to help Trevante find his way to a location, despite the two not speaking the language. The two men point at the stars above them, a peaceful bit of sky in the midst of an alien invasion, and they do not communicate, but they do hear each other. The scene is bliss, and it shows Invasion achieving its loftier emotional ambitions while also keeping its many pieces in motion, with unpredictable action of the human variety."
Invasion always feels like it’s using each far-flung story as a checklist: "A tragic love story here, a kid with metaphysical gifts there, all intercut with characters learning to trust each other in the face of tragedy," says Steve Greene. "So at the end of its 10-episode season, Invasion plays out less like a series than syllabus, a flatter-by-the-hour roundup of themes and tropes explored and subverted in much more sure-handed projects. It’s not that any of these ideas on their own, if given an entire season’s worth of runway, would necessarily be a more constructive use of time. There are precious few pieces of Invasion that don’t feel like they’re already riffing on pre-established genre ideas. It’s that all of these storylines, when added together, make up a whole that’s almost completely devoid of any emotional anchor. That’s partly due to the overall pace, which isn’t so much patient as it is meandering. A series about an alien invasion rarely gets this much time to really sit with each character as they have to parse through how much their lives will change going forward. But Invasion gets swallowed by a vast emptiness. Most of these threads have a single idea — betrayal, loneliness, regret — that get hammered home, hour after hour. The result is a collection of thin, hazy metaphors where the massive, overarching inciting event almost feels incidental."
Golshifteh Farahani did not fully realize what she was getting herself into when she signed up for Invasion: “I had absolutely no idea, I didn’t even know what the story would be,” says Farahani, an Iranian-born actress who relocated to France in 2008 and is best known for her subtly expressive performances in dozens of international films, in an interview with The New York Times. “I didn’t know about the aliens. I didn’t know about anything.” Even grilling co-creator Simon Kinberg didn't reassure Farahani. “I remember I heard from Simon that she’s going to kill an alien with a machete or something,” Farahani said of her character, Aneesha. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”