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Invasion

A child's quizzical utterance near the end of "Invasion" provides enough of a chill to warrant a return visit to what's otherwise a mildly intriguing pilot -- one that poses the burning question of whether "Lost" fans want to be similarly tantalized in the subsequent hour.

Cast:
Sheriff Tom Underlay - William Fichtner Russell Varon - Eddie Cibrian Larkin Groves - Lisa Sheridan Dr. Mariel Underlay - Kari Matchett Dave Groves - Tyler Labine Jesse Varon - Evan Peters Rose Varon - Ariel Gade

A child’s quizzical utterance near the end of “Invasion” provides enough of a chill to warrant a return visit to what’s otherwise a mildly intriguing pilot — one that poses the burning question of whether “Lost” fans want to be similarly tantalized in the subsequent hour. Of course, the ABC show omits the “of the Body Snatchers” clause that seems to be part of its premise, and producer Shaun Cassidy has been extremely coy about just exactly what the threat here is — a strategy that invites less skepticism, surely, than it would have this time last year.

For a while, the series seems as if it’s going to be blown away by an interminable (and, given recent events, unfortunately timed) hurricane sequence, as well as a child-in-peril plot involving an annoyingly cute kid. Nor is it easy initially to track the extended soap-opera web of relationships.

Russell (Eddie Cibrian), a local park ranger, is married to Larkin (Lisa Sheridan), a TV reporter. His ex-wife, Mariel (Kari Matchett), a doctor, is now hitched to the local sheriff (William Fichtner).

After the storm, however, something is different about their modest Florida hamlet, Homestead, having a lot to do with strange lights and what Larkin’s brother (Tyler Labine) is convinced has taken up residence in the local lake.

To a degree, “Invasion” follows in the footsteps of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” inasmuch as the series takes a micro approach — how this multipronged family is affected — to the notion of some kind of slow-rolling infiltration of their small town.

Yet unlike “Lost,” which had the brilliant device of the flashbacks to flesh out its array of characters, “Invasion” must inch this narrative forward with more alacrity or risk losing impatient viewers to the formidable procedurals whose time period the show invades.

Cibrian is a square-jawed hero, if somewhat confined by his Dudley Do-Right demeanor, with most of the mystery likely to surround Fichtner and Matchett. Labine, meanwhile, initially provides a modest dose of comic relief.

Cassidy has been down this road before, perhaps most directly with the short-lived CBS drama “American Gothic,” whose evil small-town sheriff didn’t survive long enough to divulge the source of his supernatural powers. He also ran afoul of current events, launching “The Agency” in 2001, which makes you wonder what dark forces he might have angered.

Yet if “Gothic” was the right show at the wrong time (and on the wrong network), “Invasion” comes when the pendulum has swung heavily back toward sci-fi, with virtually every network introducing one of these Rubik’s cubes, hoping viewers won’t quickly tire of twisting the sides.

On the plus side for ABC, none of those competitors has a certifiable hit as a lead-in, which should provide a foundation for getting the show sampled.

That’s where that climactic scene comes in, making a solid bid to generate return viewing. It’s going to take a few more clues, though, before “Invasion” proves it can transform viewers into mindless, remote-shunning drones, the kind who’ll dutifully come back week after week after week.

Invasion

ABC, Wed. Sept. 21, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles and Florida by Shaun Cassidy Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producer, Shaun Cassidy; co-executive producers, Lawrence Trilling, Becky Hartman Edwards, Michael Berns; producers, Bob Simon, Tim Marx; director, Thomas Schlamme; writer, Cassidy.

Crew: Camera, Jeffrey Jur; production design, Mayling Cheng; editor, Rob Seidenglanz; music, Jon Ehrlich; casting, Meg Liberman. Running Time: 60 MIN.

Cast: Sheriff Tom Underlay - William Fichtner Russell Varon - Eddie Cibrian Larkin Groves - Lisa Sheridan Dr. Mariel Underlay - Kari Matchett Dave Groves - Tyler Labine Jesse Varon - Evan Peters Rose Varon - Ariel Gade

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