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Colony is not an alien invasion, says executive producer Carlton Cuse at TCA

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Paul Drinkwater/USA Network

Set in the near future, an outside force has occupied Los Angeles in USA’s upcoming drama Colony — but executive producer Carlton Cuse stresses that this is not an alien invasion drama.

The series, which stars Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies, centers on a family torn by opposing forces — the collaborators and the resistance — who must make difficult decisions as they balance staying together with surviving the struggle of the human race.

But instead of seeing the initial invasion of Los Angeles and the world, the show will really focus on life in the wake of this occupation. During the invasion, all higher levels of government and law enforcement were taken out, elevating a group of people into power who are given luxuries and protection in exchange for keeping each block of humans in line.

“Ryan and I felt like that show had been done,” Cuse said of not focusing on the actual invasion at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour on Wednesday. “The story of colonization is really an espionage thriller with a sci-fi backdrop … If you look at the history of the world, almost every country has either been a colony or a colonizer. The social dynamic of one group of people having absolute power over another group of people is something we wanted to explore. We wanted to find a contemporary way to do that.”

Cuse and co-creator Ryan Condal were actually inspired by Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII, where people went on living their lives, having coffee in street-side cafes while Nazi officers marched along the roads. “The incongruity of trying to maintain the order of your life under this incredible oppression is something that really fascinated us,” Cuse said.

“For us, the creative goldmine was what happens after?” Condal added. “As Paris very quickly went back to normal life, what happens when it’s not soldiers anymore, it’s not an army vs. an army, what happens when you take these people who have lived there their whole lives and you force them to make a decision: Are you going to collaborate or are you going to resist? That was the world we were fascinated with. You take ‘normal people’ and you challenge them and put them into this survival situation.”

In that sense, Callies says the show is the “photonegative of the apocalyptic world” of The Walking Dead. “The threat we were running from on the other show was a little nameless, faceless and disorganized,” she said, noting that this story is much more David vs. Goliath. “On Colony, what we’re facing is a hyper-organized adversary that we’ll never be able to outgun.”

Though the alien force is mostly faceless, Carlton teased that they will appear at some point during the first season. “The mystery of what is this mysterious occupied force, what do they want, what exactly are they doing here, how are they operating, the’ve installed this proxy government that’s running the colony, and that’s what the show’s really about,” Cuse said. “There is definitely a mystery element because we’re trying to, as an audience, learn exactly what the new rules of this world are and what these people want and why they’re here, what’s outside the walls and what’s happened to the rest of the world. Those questions will get answered over time.”

What we do know: The new world is looking pretty grim. Los Angeles has been divided into three blocks — the actual L.A. block, the Santa Monica block and the San Fernando Valley block. “The Valley did indeed survive,” Cuse joked, noting that while downtown’s buildings are still standing, there is not a soul in sight, while south of Los Angeles is basically a barren wasteland other than spaceships taking off and landing.

But escaping the confines of L.A. — or getting off the island in Lost speak — isn’t quite the goal. “In this, I’m not trying to get off or out, I’m trying to get to my son [who is stuck in the Santa Monica block],” Holloway teased. “I’m trying to get him and get back to the family and reunite our family. He has to reunite his family and then save the human race.”

“What’s on the other side of that wall?” Holloway ponders. “[L.A. is] separated into prison blocks and we don’t know if the world is separated that way either. All communications have been cut off. We don’t know if there’s a New York or anything right now. Everything is a discovery.”

Colony is slated to debut Thursday, Jan. 14 at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

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