Picks and Pans Review: TV's New Aliens

updated 10/10/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Threshold vs. Invasion
Both shows:

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Steven Spielberg's summer movie War of the Worlds was a powerful fantasy of alien invasion, so pressingly intense it sucked the breath out of the audience. But sci-fi is even more unsettling when the invaders infiltrate us, infect us, become us. Is our breath even our own? Does our own hand reach for that Altoid—or is it an alien that knows we suffer from halitosis?

Both Threshold (CBS) and Invasion (ABC) explore this idea of mutable identity. One's high tech, the other (at least at the start) small-town gothic. In Threshold, an alien presence announces itself as something that looks like a Christmas ornament twinkling in the night sky. It sends out a virus that alters human DNA, making the double helix a triple one. After that comes freakish change: One poor man's face expands as if pencils were thrusting through the skin and then...well, this is about mutations, not makeovers. It's a complicated, dark mystery with good, unsettling special effects. If you hear people discussing "fractal patterns," they've been watching Threshold.

Invasion, at least in its opening, is a simpler story: The aliens arrive in a shower of stars as a hurricane howls through a Florida community. Afterward phantom lights are seen burbling in the waters of the Everglades, and at least one survivor gives off a peculiar vibe: A physician (Kari Matchett), found naked in marshland, returns to her old life, only something has changed. But what? Matchett, who has the blonde hair and patrician nose of a Hilton, quietly conveys a creepy unease. An ill wind still blows, only for now as a whisper.

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