Syfy has made a significant effort recently to rebuild its reputation as a place for intelligent science fiction, with series like The Expanse and The Magicians, and at first glance, Hunters seems like it could be part of that same trend. Based on the novel Alien Hunter by renowned genre writer (and alleged alien abductee) Whitley Strieber, Hunters is sort of like 24 meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with an elite government agency battling against alien terrorists hidden among the human populace. It's a silly, pulpy premise that could have been campy fun, but creator Natalie Chaidez (a writer and producer on Syfy's 12 Monkeys) plays it with deadly seriousness. The tone is so grim and gritty that it's laughable, especially with the weak acting, chintzy special effects and overall blatant cost-cutting.
Shot in Australia (presumably to save money) but set in the U.S., Hunters features a cast of mostly Australian actors doing questionable American accents, and sticks to generic-looking locations that lack geographic specificity (although theoretically the show takes place in the Washington, D.C. area). Everything about the show is just slightly off, in a low-budget knockoff kind of way. The characters work in an underpopulated warehouse-style office, for an agency with the absurd name of the Exo-Terrorism Unit (or ETU, strikingly similar to 24's CTU). The frequent shots of alien guts are excessively gross but also extremely fake-looking. The aliens' main form of communication is a kind of chattering that is meant to sound creepy but quickly becomes annoying, especially because it crops up in every attempt at a suspenseful moment, and also before and after every commercial break. It's like the producers were determined to build the entire series around one particularly cool piece of sound design that they commissioned.
Star Nathan Phillips plays the standard macho, tortured agent who crosses the line but gets results, who has a personal grudge against the alien terrorists who kidnapped his wife. Britne Oldford is slightly better as the ETU agent who is actually an alien herself, although she grew up believing herself human and doesn't know where the aliens come from or what they're meant to do. The main distinguishing mark on the aliens is a rash that looks like extremely dry skin, which leads to a hilarious scene in the second episode in which the anguished hero is devastated to discover his missing wife's cabinet full of moisturizer. Playing this scene as an emotional bombshell is indicative of how seriously the producers take this nonsense, and no one in the cast (even TV veteran Julian McMahon, playing the main super-evil alien terrorist) is equipped to pull it off. Hunters desperately wants to be a serious allegory for modern terrorism and an intense action thriller, but it fails at both, and in doing so loses the opportunity to at least come up with some enjoyable B-movie cheese. Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Syfy.