Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Frank Review of "V, Season 1.1: 'Pilot' and 1.2 'There Is No Normal Anymore'" (2009)

The Short Version? The Visitors are on Earth to be our friends...?
What Is It? Sci-Fi action drama.
Who Is In It? Joss Whedon and Scott Peters' people.
Should I See It? Maybe.

I was only vaguely aware of the original V mini-series on NBC, but I was down from The Final Battle on. Then week long syndicated rebroadcasts of both mini-series become an annual event on local stations, and I remained faithful. Unlike most other passions from my childhood, I retain a deep fondness for V, which I am still able to fully appreciate as an adult. It was a smart series with enough action and effects to hold the attention of audiences of all ages. Not only do I love V, but there's something still special for me about watching the show "live," in original broadcast. I stopped regular television viewing years ago, so ABC's "reimagined" V relaunch represents not only a chance to hook old fans and new, but to potentially shepherd lost viewers back to the boob tube itself. Besides, I'd hate to have V spoilt for me the way I've tried to avoid being with Battlestar Galactica, which I still haven't seen.

The modern V V at the opening theme is still red on black, but this looks more like it was brushed than spray-painted. It materializes as a slow moving wipe at an angle before righting itself. It's not bad, but signals a major shift between the original show's philosophy and the modern take. In the old school, you had a static graphic with ominous symphonic music lasting for several minutes. Today, the graphic comes and goes in seconds, logging an instant impact, but no lasting impression.

The ships are in the sky from the start, and the most visible Visitor, Anna, appears on a giant viewing screen to comfort everyone before the title card. There's no time for a slow build-up, no real mystery-- just nice CGI and a pop culture snub against the V derivative ID4. Hell, there isn't even time to call the aliens "Visitors" anymore. Too many syllables, I guess. Now, they're "V's," and I take that moronic spelling from their official website. "V's" make me think of vee-jay-jay, and considering the show itself acknowledges that all these aliens are "attractive," maybe that's intentional.

All the leads show up in the first fifteen minutes. Jesse Wheeler plays Brandon, but old fans will recognize him as Daniel Bernstein Jr. There's half the depth, none of the menace, but he's got "snark" and at least one (obnoxious) human friend now. Daniel Jr. isn't a social pariah, so he needs added motivation. I never saw Laura Vandervoort play Supergirl on Smallville, and at least she isn't in short-shorts here, even if she's still just the Venus flytrap for the boys (in show and out.) Daniel Junior looks to be a goy as well, so the Jewish schtick is out, and in its place is F.B.I. agent mom Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell, the bi-curious photographer from Gia.)

Morris Chestnut plays a successful professional who loves his girlfriend and wants nothing to do with his old life. We know this because all he does is tell us right up until the end of the episode, when he takes it back.

Rather than a kindly old priest in a supporting role, Joel Gretsch plays hunky Father Jack Landry, among the first individuals to openly question the aliens' motivations. This attracts the attention of a member of an underground movement, which serves to draw the leads together for the big action set piece.

Scott Wolf appears to be playing a hybrid of Michael Donovan and Kristine Walsh, the first newsperson with heightened access to the aliens. Sure, Chad Decker initially sells out to the V's under pressure, but he retains some journalistic integrity and investigative interest. A decent job is done of establishing his credentials as a real reporter forced into the role of prettyboy anchorman, so it isn't complete nonsense that the V's would put faith in him. Also, Morena (Firefly) Baccarin, like Diana before her, seems to have allowed her "V" to guide her down a dangerous path in media relations.

Fellow Firefly alum Alan Tudyk plays Erica Evans' F.B.I. partner Dale Maddox, who helps to lead the show toward one of its innovations. Space Nazis are out, terrorism in. Further, the enemy no longer wears red, nor leans right. The V's are in blue, smile nice, and manipulate the media in a decidedly Obamaesque fashion. They're all about peace and the betterment of mankind, but there's already a tea party ready to slow their commie progress. Of course, the kids are all about the V's, spreading "hope" through social organizing and tagging walls with their iconography.

While watching the V pilot, I was pleasantly surprised by the ways it stayed faithful to the original series. Its political subtext is actually a lot more relevant than the 1984 version, and obviously the effects are improved. People forget how cheesy the direction and acting were in the old show, very much a small screen mentality not far removed from the '70s. On the other hand, the new characters seem much more slight, and everything is told in a distancing shorthand. This is a retread, and some of the charm has been lost in the revisitation.

Worse, I confess I was studying for a test during about half of the V pilot's running time, so I imagine I was occupied in a way folks who complained about slow pacing were not. Also, it wasn't until the next morning I had time to think about some of the show's many inanities. It seems like a good deal of effort was put into designing the new ships in order to make them far less distinct and iconic. In fact, they now appear less advanced, even crude, than in the '80s. When the V's aren't in a generic blue Roddenberry type suit, they're in actual Earth clothes, which is plain boring. To replace the shocking reveal in the first movie, two new last minute twists were added, but not earned. The final fight wasn't bad, but it was needlessly confusing, and the lead-up to it makes some remarkably stupid mistakes.* Suddenly, given proper consideration, the show was looking like more of a dog.

I remained optimistic at the start of the second episode, titled "There Is No Normal Anymore." It started slow, heavy on recap. We learned the torture techniques of the V's are a lot more refined than Diana's inquisitions, and hint at some sort of illusion abilities. There are potentially some among the V's might believe their own hype, and indication that Daniel Jr. might end up with a bit of Robin Maxwell thrown in. Some subplots were advanced, and new characters introduced.

Who am I kidding? The second episode spun its wheels. There was so much pressure to introduce all the major concepts associated with the old series into the first episode, it was easy to miss that very little else had been sufficiently developed to stand on its own. The characters are cardboard, and what's been added to the series is obviously lifted from other sources, like the Phantasm balls, the X-Files shadow government conspiracy, and so on. I said before I loved V on television, but I now must confess I didn't stay with the short-lived ongoing spin-off for long. The original mini-series created a perfect engine to go weekly, but after The Final Battle, I couldn't see where else they had to go even as a child. The same mistake wasn't made with new V, but its basic machinery is so familiar to genre fans, I'm already feeling fatigue.

I'm going to give V the length of its initial "pod," a four week run in November before returning in March. Hell, I might even try back then, seeing as major changes were being made behind the scenes even before the pilot aired. I sincerely hope for the best, but honestly, the more I see, the less it's V.

*In a half hour, we're to believe a couple dozen people had time to be anesthetized and submitted to needless surgery without explanation, plus have an actual deep orientation, before being raided. Also, why would they wield swords, and what's with the lack of the striking laser weapons from the good old days?

No comments:


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.