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Shatner, 'Invasion’ Suffer Identity Crisis

What happens when you take William Shatner and a team of actors, drop them in middle America and start making a reality series? Or is it a film? Or is it a reality series about a fake film?

Spike TV’s miniseries Invasion Iowa is actually the latter. The joke is on the hamlet of Riverside, Iowa, which it’s important to mention, in 1985 declared itself the future birthplace of Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, Shatner’s character on Star Trek.

Shatner is surrounded by a supporting cast playing up Hollywood eccentricities. There’s the dizzy, blonde actress Gryffyn (Desi Lydic); the sexy, bitchy female studio exec Max (Garz Chan); the toady assistant Herb (Michael J. O’Hara); and off-the-wall body double and illegitimate nephew of Shatner, Tiny (Kirk Ward).

Invasion Iowa is a blend of MTV: Music Television’s Real World, Candid Camera and Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, all interspersed with an Ed Wood-caliber sci-fi flick.

The basic idea: convince the town folk into believing they are part of a real Hollywood production. This figures to be tricky: Early on, one seems to catch on to the joke and is quickly dismissed from the movie (luckily, his part had already finished shooting).

But the show seems to be confused as to whether it wants to be an over-the-top practical joke, or a heartfelt examination of rural America.

Shatner seems similarly conflicted. In Real World-style asides, he confesses to feeling bad about the conceit. But at other times, he’s gung ho for the gag: eating off the plates of the townies; convincing them to buy his line of color-coded mood hats, called “Shats”; and, of course, horribly overacting in his “film.”

Supposedly playing an over-the-top caricature of himself, Shatner slides out of his stretch limo clutching an Emmy. But even this comes off half-baked. In one scene, he’s a tightwad trying to convince a local restaurant owner not to cash a check for $4; later, he’s throwing money at the same woman trying to cover up one cast member’s kleptomania.

The show does have its moments, especially when “spiritual advisor” Steve, played by Ernie Grunwald, leads the townies in goofy rituals, like glowing affirmative shout-outs he calls “love bombs.”

Overall, the show suffers from its identity crisis, not going quite far enough to be as funny as it could be.

Invasion Iowa debuts Tuesday, March 29, at 9 p.m. ET, with an episode March 31 at 9 p.m. and a two-hour conclusion, appropriately, on April Fool’s Day.