BBC America’s latest original series (see my past reviews for gripes on the fact that this network even has original shows, albeit often-good ones, while hardly airing anything British) is INTRUDERS. A dark, dreary, plodding sci-fi / horror drama, the series is about a secret society that cheats death by intruding into other people’s bodies and taking control. With weird, uneven pacing, the show seeks to set a scary tone, but perhaps hits it a little too much on the head. It might pair well with Doctor Who, its partner on Saturday nights, but Who audiences might very well decide it’s not smart enough to be worth their time.
The pilot of INTRUDERS is not at all a good pilot. I know what the premise is because I’ve read media materials, but the plot is not evident from the start. One could conceivably watch the whole first hour and still be confused at the point of the show. All we see are people running around, being shot, and acting in unexplained manners, never really showing us what they are up to.
After awhile, you’ll realize that the main protagonist seems to be Jack Whelan (John Simm, Life on Mars, Doctor Who), a former cop whose wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino, Psych, Falling Skies), suddenly goes missing midway through episode one. He soon becomes obsessed with finding her, as one does, but avoids the traditional routes one might take to locate a missing person. His story thickens more when an old friend, Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles, True Detective, Sons of Anarchy), shows up to seek his help with a murder investigation. Intelligent viewers will assume there is connection between the case and Amy, though the series doesn’t seek to draw a thread between them yet.
In the second major subplot, a vicious assassin named Richard Shepherd (James Frain, Grimm, The Tudors) slays his way around, searching for a nine-year-old girl named Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland). It is likely safe to assume that Madison is the current host of a malevolent being who hurts poor, defenseless animals. This begs the question, is Richard, despite his brutality, a good guy out to save the world? And if not, should we care about Madison?
The thing is, I don’t care. The installment jumps around aimlessly, leaping between characters without direction and rarely giving us anything cohesive to work with. It actually feels like there are more players and elements than there are because of the disorganization. Rather than set up a structure for what should be a long-running mystery adventure show, we get a jumble of unrelated scenes with people that are not memorable. It’s really hard to follow INTRUDERS.
That’s a shame because the cast, well-seasoned, is good, if badly used. Frain plays bad beautifully, as we’ve seen from him before, and Simm has what it takes to be a leading man, if the writers would deign to give him the material. I like Sorvino, even though her smaller part is mostly confined to acting unattractively crazy, and Kittles seems a fine enough side kick.
Brown, though young, is distracting. It’s not that she doesn’t play creepy well, it’s just too much, her supposedly deceptive character hitting all the stereotypical notes. In this, she matches the tone that the score and lighting seek to set, which is overtly creepy so that no one can mistake it for anything else. Sadly, this is not a sign of a high-quality program.
I’m told other episodes of INTRUDERS get better and the story really takes off by week three. The problem is, a lot of viewers won’t stick around that long. I haven’t decided if I will. Delivering a pilot that is poor on so many counts makes it hard to get excited about the series, and thus fails in its mission. INTRUDERS is a false start for the up-and-coming network.
INTRUDERS airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.