Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal’s “Colony” represents another high-concept swing for USA Network following the success of summer drama “Mr. Robot,” allowing the network that was once known for its “blue skies” programming to pivot into darker territory. Starring “Lost’s” Josh Holloway and “The Walking Dead’s” Sarah Wayne Callies, the series follows one family’s struggle to survive and bring liberty back to the people of an occupied future Los Angeles. Holloway plays former FBI agent Will Bowman, while Callies plays his wife, Katie. After being separated from their son during the invasion, the couple are willing to do whatever is necessary to be reunited with him.
“Colony” also serves as a reunion for Cuse and Holloway, who previously collaborated on “Lost.” Despite reporters’ attempts to draw comparisons between that enigmatic ABC series and the new USA drama during “Colony’s” presentation at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour on Wednesday, Holloway insisted that his new character is at the other end of the spectrum from his bad boy role as Sawyer. “In my other show, he would live for himself pretty much,” Holloway noted. “I’m not trying to get off the island and out, I’m trying to get back to my son and reunite our family, and ultimately to find a way to help the human race. In my character’s eyes, family is first, and he has to unite his family and then save the human race.”
But there is one major similarity between the two shows, according to Holloway: “In the tradition of working with Carlton Cuse, I don’t know anything that’s going on — it’s a wonderful discovery [process].”
Cuse admitted that, in a manner similar to “Lost,” mysteries are central to “Colony’s” conceit — including the motivations of Los Angeles’ unseen (and decidedly sci-fi) occupiers. “We wanted to keep the curtain right in front of the audience so you never know more than what the characters know,” he said.
And while it would seem like Callies is drawn to thrillers that focus on civilization under attack, the “Walking Dead” star insisted, “This is the photo-negative of the apocalyptic world I came from. An apocalypse is about anarchy and chaos and the loss of control, whereas an occupation is about a hyper-organized state that has absolute control.” While the zombies on “The Walking Dead” were “nameless, faceless and disorganized,” she said, the antagonists in “Colony” are a “hyper-organized adversary that we’ll never be able to outgun, and never be able to out-intelligence.”
Cuse and Condal admitted that in conceptualizing the show, they didn’t want to do “another show in the aliens versus humans genre,” pointing to invasion shows like “Falling Skies” and “V” as recent examples. Instead, they were particularly inspired by the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War II, especially in Paris, when civilians could often be seen blithely sitting at coffee shops and going about their days while Nazi soldiers patrolled the streets, a visible reminder of their oppression. “Everybody knew the Nazis were bad, but for us, the true villains are the humans that have decided to turn against their own kind, and that makes for interesting storytelling,” Condal said.
“We’ve seen tons of movies about the invasion, but for us, the creative goldmine is what happens next,” he added, noting that “Paris went back to normal life… What happens when it’s not soldiers anymore, it’s not an army versus an army? You take ‘normal’ people like Will and Katie and you put them into this survival situation.”
The producers also wanted to comment on present-day situations such as the Western military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, noting that on “Colony,” the occupying force, the proxy government they’ve installed, the resistance fighters working against them, and the civilians just trying to get through the day all have different agendas and different opinions about the “right” thing to do to protect themselves and their families, which creates plenty of tension and storytelling possibilities.
While the show does have a genre skew, Cuse described it as “an espionage thriller with a sci-fi backdrop… Almost every country has been either a colony or a colonizer [at some point]; the social dynamic of one group of people having absolute power over another group of people is what we wanted to explore.”
“Colony” is a co-production between Legendary Television and Universal Cable Productions. Nelson McCormick (“24”) also serves as executive producer.
“Colony” premieres Thursday, January 14, at 10 p.m. on USA.