With a premiere focusing on a small Florida town in the wake of a major hurricane, Invasion had all promotions and marketing halted by ABC in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The network had even considered delaying the premiere but ultimately did not, which seems entirely appropriate; as the title makes abundantly clear, there are extraterrestrials in them hills. With such an emphasis, its hard to believe that “Invasion’s” hurricane portrayal would offend.

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(Courtesy of ABC)

Our hero is a divorced park ranger and straight arrow Russell Varon. Only a few months prior, Russell was Eddie Towne on ESPN’s tepid and highly hyped drama “Tilt”-that’s right, Eddie Cibrain! Whose idea was it to give the most nondescript white guy to grace the small screen since the heyday of Jonathan Silverman’s “The Single Guy” another lead role?

We’re also introduced to a full stable of one-note characters, trotted out to the track at just the right time: Russell’s bitter ex-wife, Mariel (Kari Matchett, “Blue Murder”), her husband, sheriff Tom Underlay (William Fichtner, “Empire Falls”) and Russell’s boozy, slacker brother-in-law Dave (Tyler Labine, “My Boss’s Daughter”).

Everyone falls into place quickly enough; in the pilot, Dave gathers skeletal evidence supporting the presence of aliens, and the viewers realize that he will spend significant chunks of his time attempting to convince Russell of the imminent invasion. Tom and Mariel, who are clearly under the mysterious, undetected influence of the aliens, will appear on the other bank of the river, in cahoots with the invaders. Granted, the network has only aired a few episodes, but the primary players thus far all serve a stated purpose: Dave’s the alien conspiracist, Russell the unassuming hero, and Tom plays the nemesis. It’s almost impossible to care what happens to these cardboard characters.

Viewers get Cibrain and Fichtner in a locked-jaw face-off while Matchett plays Mariel with an edgeless Stepford coolness. Potentially, Labine could have been a saving grace; he plays zany Uncle Dave with enough off-the-cuff eccentricities so that his advice is always suspect. Unfortunately, Labine delivers the most unconvincing substance abuser since Jesse Spano with the caffeine pills on “Saved By The Bell.”

Add to the mix some cheap special effects and attempts at “Lost”-type mysteries that barely get off the ground for their painful predictability, and that’s it. It says something about the state of non-HBO television that Cibrain has managed to finagle a lead role on two mediocre shows promised enough hype to last beyond their first season. Like “Tilt,” “Invasion” is guaranteed a certain amount of viewers through forces other than its own merit. This is unfortunate. The more viewers accept low rate material, the more the networks will continue to shovel it out.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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