By: Aleks Chan
V, a “re-imagining” of the one-off NBC miniseries that ran during the 1983 TV season, quickly found itself on my list of the fall’s most promising new shows. Though my impression was only based on seeing very brief clips made available during ABC’s annual Upfront presentation, I distinctly remember latching on to three things: that this could be scary-good as opposed to cheesy-good; whether it was intended or not, this seems allegorical of Obama’s presidential campaign and subsequent presidency; and Elizabeth Mitchell will be on TV for the time being, thank God.
This vision of Kenneth Johnson’s reptilian space invaders is more utilitarian than creepy. It’s all muted ambiance: giant saucers eclipse the sky, hovering over the world’s major cities, rumbling the ground beneath it, sending crucifixes and fighter jets careening down. Millions gather in awe and despair as cable news talking heads chatter in the background.
As the ships ascend the skyline, their holographic, luminescent undersides act as a giant television screens (yes, like Blade Runner), from which we meet Anna, Visitor High Commander, and the focal point for what looks (and this is the case for all the subtexts vying for attention here) to be a cogent, if long, winded, and murky, allegory of Barack Obama.
Stricken with perplexity, the earthlings gaze up as Anna explains the V’s (as they come to be called) sudden arrival: they’re out of gas (which just so happens to be a mineral of bountiful quantities on Earth) and need a break – it’s an intergalactic truck stop. In return, Anna promises “technology that will help enrich [their] lives in all areas,” which so far includes cures for 65 of the world’s ailments and universal health care. The Vs are also friendly; willing to share their otherworldly gadgetry and worldview, insofar as to be the world’s timely saviour, carrying local economies out of slumps with tourism booms.
Any of this ringing any bells? If not, then Morena Baccarin, who embodies mother brain Anna with a devilish robotic detachment, will. Not only is Anna a master orator, she possesses an advertising-friendly catchphrase (“We are of peace, always”) and boasts a face that looks like it was carved by angels. (That Beccarin also sports a short, pixie-like crew cut so that she may physically resemble a certain commander in chief is an interesting detail.)
Anna has a hold over the already effusive press (“Don’t ask us any questions that would portray us negatively.”), twisting the arm of rising journalist Chad Decker, played by Scott Wolf, who plays the struggle between choosing objectivity and elevating his career with just the right balance of sliminess and ambition.
The V’s quickly become hip, cultural icons capturing worldwide attention and creating followers and devotees who literally bow before the spaceships in the sky. They employ their supporters to graffiti their symbol on buildings, an act they call “spreading hope.” It does veer from being completely linear by also cultivating some post-9/11 paranoia, with resistance groups clamouring against the V’s arrival as a sign of a looming invasion.
Tracking both sides is FBI counterterrorism agent Erica Evans, played by Elizabeth Mitchell, with her transfixing intensity and piercing blue eyes. She’s hesitant of the V’s arrival and their promises, weary that there’s an ulterior motive. Her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) is enamoured by the V’s, particularly a foxy one named Lisa (Laura Vandervoort).
A third extension of the plot is handed to a lame domestic drama whose twist even seems unimportant. But it’s the foray into the church that proves most interesting of all: Joel Gretsch (who starred in The 4400) plays Father Jack, a priest with a serious crisis of faith, unable to explain the Vs. “There’s not a lot of scripture on the subject,” he tells his superior, who simply directs him to follow the rulings of the higher order, much to our priest’s chagrin: “We are all God’s creatures? That’s how the Vatican explains the existence of aliens?”
How many or whatever the allegorical or metaphorical aspirations V may have, the pilot makes a dull case for each of them. It smoothes along, covering a lot of ground in one episode, setting up a lot of stories, but not making them compelling enough with characters no greater than abstracts.
In interviews, the producers haven’t been able to come up with what V’s underlying message is. They claim to only be “freakishly prescient,” and that the agenda is no agenda. Perhaps they fear offending some entity by speaking too openly, because if this is truly the case, it’s silly in retrospect. The original, though it lacked the caliber of special effects we have now, knew exactly the story it wanted to tell, and told it: the Vs were Nazis down to their Swastika-like insignia, the series a reptilian take on fascism. I’m thinking the former – it is premiering on Election Day after all. Grade: B-