Despite its ominous title, “Invasion” makes a slow burn out of revealing its basic premise. 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.
From co-creators Simon Kinberg (“The Martian”) and David Weil (Amazon Prime’s “Hunters” and “Solos”), “Invasion” does its level best to paint a broad portrait of a planet in crisis from several perspectives. There’s a small town sheriff (Sam Neill), teetering on the brink of retirement as his trusty deputy (DeWanda Wise) looks on in worry. There’s Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani), a Syrian immigrant and mother who has the bad luck to find out her husband (Firas Nassar) is cheating on her right as the Something hits their American suburb with a vengeance. Aneesha and her children (played by Tara Moayedi and an increasingly familiar Azhy Robertson) get enough screen time in the series’ opening chapters that it’s clear she’s meant to be as close to a purely emotional anchor as “Invasion” has; unfortunately, she’s also caught in a circular marriage drama that traps Aneesha and Farahani both in a repetitive loop of simmering frustration, not to mention stilted dialogue that keeps either from feeling particularly real.
The second episode then introduces two more characters and settings with Trevante (Shamier Anderson), an American soldier stationed in the vague Middle Eastern desert that TV and film loves so much, and Caspar (Billy Barratt), a British kid whose school bus ends up veering over a cliff to strand his class “Lord of the Flies” style at the bottom of a ravine. The most intriguing — not to mention well-acted — segment of the first three episodes belongs to Shioli Kutsuna’s Mitsuki, a Japanese aerospace technician determined to understand why her astronaut lover’s spaceship seemed to suddenly implode. Kutsuna is excellent in both Mitsuki’s most defiant and most devastated moments; her embodiment of Mitsuki’s doomed love story feels developed enough that it’s easy to imagine a series entirely about her rather than one in which she’s a single spoke on a much larger wheel.
Some characters appear in all three episodes; others get dropped to make room for others that crop up out of nowhere so that the show can bring in more story from more countries to complete its broad picture. The urge to include as many perspectives as possible is an understandable one, especially when you’re working with the kind of budget and reach that a backer like Apple can offer. And yet, as “Invasion” hops from storyline to storyline to yet another storyline, its blunt dialogue and characterizations fail to make any of its disparate threads as immediately compelling as its scattered narrative needs to stay afloat.
A show including this many perspectives could have the advantage of exploring several smart ways into the same premise. “Invasion,” however, spends considerable time laying the groundwork of capital i Intrigue instead of finding organic ways to flesh out its sprawling cast beyond it. It has all the trappings of a prestigious television series: luscious cinematography, a trusty veteran like Neill, a sweeping Max Richter score to give “Invasion” a jolt of “Leftovers”-esque energy. But in its initial outing, to paraphrase an iconic film from one of its star’s resumé, “Invasion” seems too preoccupied with doing the most just because it can, and not necessarily because it should.