It isn’t every day that the Sci-Fi Channel, a relative midget in the network primetime universe, is able to land an original series executive produced by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola. But it has done exactly that with “First Wave,” a legitimately creepy and compelling alien-invasion series blessed with a lead you can’t take your eyes off in relative newcomer Sebastian Spence. Even with the abundance of “X-Files” clones and drones popping up all over TV’s landscape, this hour (which already has 66 episodes in the can) has it over most by being not only smarter, but visually spare.
One of the mistakes that sci-fi projects typically make is in taking the view that more is more, that elaborate effects and pyrotechnics drive the genre and can compensate for any shortcomings of script and performance. Not even close. “First Wave” succeeds by being plenty unsettling, yet subtle. It looks weird, it feels weird, but it’s more perceptual than purely visual. The storylines, too, are uniquely original and complex.
At the show’s core is Cade Foster (Spence), a former thief who gets a tad too little sun, but is otherwise a swell dude who now works in a high-tech security firm after having turned his life around with the love of a good woman named Hannah (Stacy Grant). But all of a sudden, things begin to go south for ol’ Cade. He starts suffering severe hallucinations in which he envisions a severed head. He gets set up and fired from his job. His bank account is drained mysteriously. His credit cards won’t work.
If Cade were Dennis Rodman, he would simply withdraw and work things out in Las Vegas. But he needs answers, particularly after he comes home to find the number “19” smeared all over his walls in blood. He notices a few other men going through a similar nightmare. But Cade really knows something is up after a serpent slithers from his Hannah’s neck during lovemaking and tries to crush him, killing his wife and framing him for a murder he didn’t commit. Bummer city.
Persistence ultimately wins knowledge for Cade, now a fugitive from justice. But it’s not good. Seems he is one of 117 test subjects used by alien beings as part of a master psychological warfare plan to take over the Earth, and the “19” refers to the goal of 19 million human beings killed on the coming first day of invasion. It was all apparently predicted by Nostradamus back in 1564.
A future episode will expose how the dastardly aliens are implanting worms in human brains to record their memories and upload a breed of look-alike clones. It all sounds quite preposterous, but the well-constructed pilot teleplay from exec producer Chris Brancato holds together uncommonly well, bolstered by some intense direction from Brenton Spencer and a solid lead performance from Spence.
Kudos likewise go to director of photography Henry Chan and his team, and to art director Jason Sutherland for some bracing visual artistry that never overwhelms. Rest of tech credits are solid.