V: The Complete First Season (2009) (DVD)

We are of peace. Always.

It’s been said many times over the years that science fiction, despite the trappings of the genre, isn’t really about the aliens and spaceships and ray guns, but it’s really about the here and now, and that, in a metaphorical sense, it uses the future as a mirror to reflect issues about who we are now. The alien invasion genre, or subgenre or sub-subgenre or whatever, is one of the best examples of this. When the giant spaceships appear in the sky all over the world, looking as oppressive and menacing, the question—at least from a thematic point of view—isn’t necessarily “who are they?” but “What will we do?” or “How will we react?” Will the world’s governments and cultures unite in the face of the aliens? Will we cooperate with the aliens or fight them? Will the aliens’ presence cause world governments, religions or economies to collapse?

These are big, big questions, and the new series V, a remake of the ’80s cult classic miniseries, tries to answer them. Whether it succeeds is the biggest question of all.

One day, out of nowhere, giant alien spaceships appear in the skies over the world’s largest cities. The ships broadcast a message from the alien visitors, saying that they come in peace, and that they’re here to cure disease and make the world a better place. The world rejoices and accepts the visitors, or “Vs” for short, allowing the aliens to move freely around on Earth. The Vs open healing centers, curing illness and injuries with their fantastic technology, and they institute a “Live Aboard” program, where humans can take up permanent residence aboard the V ships.

A small group on Earth, though, believe the Vs are up to no good, and a resistance movement, called the Fifth Column, is formed. Although small, their efforts make a dent in the plans of the seemingly all-powerful Vs, so now the battle for Earth is on.

The resistance:

• Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost), an FBI agent and single mother, who learns some critical and frightening facts about the Vs just after their arrival.

• Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch, The 4400), a Catholic priest who finds his personal values shaken to the core by the presence of the Vs.

• Tyler Evans (Logan Huffman), Erica’s troubled teenage son, who starts up a romance with a young V girl, and who believes the Vs will change his life.

• Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut, Ladder 49), who claims to be a stockbroker, but who is actually close to the Vs and knows many of their secrets. He and his fiancé Valerie (Lourdes Benedicto) are expecting their first child.

• Georgie Sutton (David Richmond-Peck), who was once an ordinary suburban husband and father, until his family was murdered by what be believes were aliens. Now he’s recruiting others for the resistance.

• Hobbes (Charles Mesure), a mercenary and illegal arms dealer, who is forced to join the resistance after the Vs frame him for crimes. He only looks out for number one.

• Chad Decker (Scott Wolf, Party of Five), a celebrity TV journalist, who is selected by the Vs to be the one who reports on them. Will he give up his professional ethics for the privilege—and monetary success—of being the face of the Vs on television?

The Vs:

• Anna (Morena Baccarin, Serenity) the leader of the Vs, who charms humanity with her kindness, but who is a master manipulator in secret.

• Lisa (Laura Vandervoort, Smallville), a beautiful young V who starts up a romance with Tyler, and who has close ties with Anna.

• Marcus (Christopher Shyer, Along Came a Spider), Anna’s cold and unfeeling second in command, a force to be reckoned with.

• Joshua (Marc Hildreth), a V doctor, whose loyalties might not be with the rest of his kind.

Why remake something? (Other than “for the money,” that is.) The usual answer has to do with shining a light on the current events of the day. This is usually described as taking a classic and “making it relevant” for modern viewers. In the case of V, the creators have tried a little too hard for that to happen, with numerous references to the Fifth Column, who are supposed to be our heroes, as “sleeper cells” and “terrorists.” There’s even an uncomfortable exchange at one point in which Hobbes flat out tells the others “We’re terrorists.” On one hand, the writers have other characters unsure about this, and they debate using violence to get their point across. On the other hand, it has that stink of “We watched way too much 24-hour cable news while we wrote the script.”

The political hand-wringing is glaring, but it’s not the major flaw. The big problem with the new V is that there are too many “Hey, wait a minute” moments. Honestly, I don’t want to be one of those internet guys who nitpicks every movie to death just for cheap laughs. Unlike those other internet guys, I actually like movies, and I’m all about the suspension of disbelief. V, however, stretches the disbelief farther than most movie lovers will be able to stand. Get this: Mere minutes after the city-size spaceships appear in the sky all over the world with their message of peace, everyone in the streets applauds with joy. Does this show take place in an alternate reality where no one is skeptical about anything? To be fair, people do express doubts about the Vs later on, but these people are the minority. Also, it’s frustrating as to how no one ever asks the Vs so many of the obvious questions, such as “Where are you from?” or “What do you want?” or “Why are you helping us?” or even simple things like, “What do you eat?” Instead, Decker becomes a favorite of both the Vs and his viewers by asking about how good-looking all the Vs are. Throughout the season, I kept thinking that people don’t act the way people normally act, even with all the aliens and spaceships.

Why did the show end up this way? The problems began with the pilot, which attempted to cram the story of the original four-hour miniseries into a single hour. The creators not only have to establish this new sci-fi world of theirs but they also have to set up all the characters’ relationships with one another and their places in this new world of theirs. That means we get stuff in the pilot like teenagers getting to visit the mother ship and volunteering with a V youth ambassador program, before Anna does her first major interview on TV. This isn’t economic storytelling, its narrative convenience. Rushing through the plot like it does, V doesn’t give audiences a chance to get a feeling of this world and its ideas.

Fortunately, V does get better as it goes along, but it takes a while to get there. For me, it was the sixth episode, “A Pound of Flesh,” where the show made the jump from ho-hum to kind of cool. In this one, the show temporarily goes into heist movie mode, where the resistance has to safely sneak on board a V ship, use its tech to broadcast a message to other Fifth Column supporters around the globe, and then safely sneak back off again. The plot gives each character a moment to shine, as everyone has to do his or her part to pull off the scheme. It’s an exciting, suspenseful episode with a lot of cool twists, and it shows the potential that this show could have. It’s too bad then, that so much of this season is build up. The creators have hinted that big events are coming, and they constantly dangle the possibility of major changes or revelations in front of viewers, hoping to keep them tuning in week after week. The producers flat-out admit this in the commentary, saying over and over that practically everything this season has been establishing their “big plans” for season two. We’ll see.

The show also has some interesting things to say about the nature of emotion. Emotions among the Vs are not clearly defined. Although they appear emotionless and seem to disdain human emotions, it appears that Vs do have feelings of their own, but in a different way. There are a few times when Anna enacts the “bliss” a telepathic pep talk she gives to all Vs around the world, to uplift and inspire them. Like everything with Anna, though, this works in two ways. One, by bringing hope to the Vs, and another, by uniting them in their loyalty to her. As for human emotion, Anna and the Vs are able to always stay one step ahead of the humans by playing on their emotions. Human emotions, the Vs argue, make them predictable. Because they’ve studied the humans so closely, they’re able to know how humans will react to their plans. This is an interesting—and scary—idea, and some of V’s best moments are when the aliens are coldly manipulating the emotional humans for their own ends.

Like the series overall, the cast is also a mixed bag. Baccarin is great as Anna, finding just the right balance between slimy evil and otherworldly seductress. The same could be said for Vandervoort, who also adds a sense of being conflicted as she spends more time with her human boyfriend. Mitchell, on the other hand, has only two settings on this show, look worried and look determined. Wolf plays another “grey area” character, in that you’re never sure what side he’s on, but his inner turmoil isn’t illustrated as well as it with Vandervoort and some of the other conflicted characters. The rest of the cast is called upon to look grim and stalwart most of the time, and they do it well. The only humor in the series comes from Charles Mesure as Hobbes, who gets to sneak in the occasional sarcastic wisecrack.

Other nitpicky stuff:
• The fact that the Vs look just like humans is key to several plot points, but it’s inconsistent how some people can tell Vs from humans and some can’t.
• It’s revealed that no one knew the V ships were approaching from space until they day they arrived because the ships have cloaking devices. Why is no one concerned that the Vs have this cloaking technology?
• A lot of the visual effects are truly eye-popping, so when there’s a not-as-good effect, like the occasional obvious green screen work or an embarrassing CGI alien insect, it’s a sore thumb.
• Aren’t those giant ships hovering over major cities blocking out the sun for a whole lot of people?

All twelve episodes are here on this three-disc set. The picture quality is clean and clear, providing a ton of detail and color. The 5.1 sound is not as booming as the best tracks out there, but it’s free of any glaring defects. The eleventh episode has a producer commentary, which drops all kinds of hints as to what’s ahead for season two. Four featurettes, about writing,

A mixed bag. V has some interesting ideas, eye-popping visuals, and some good performances. It also has clunky, rushed writing, and a lot of what happens is setup, making it feel like one big advertisement for a second season. Here’s hoping that one goes somewhere.

The Verdict

V for very guilty.

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