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TV Review: V (2009)

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It seems as though every other week some new version of an old television show or movie is making its way onto the screen (either big or little).  The latest of these reimaginings appears this week on ABC, with V.  The original V miniseries aired in 1983 and was successful enough to spawn a second miniseries and then an actual TV series which only managed to last one season. 

"V" is short for either "Victory" or "Visitor," the latter of which is the name given to a single member of the alien race (collectively, The Visitors) which, in the opening of the series, appear in massive spaceships over many of Earth's cities.  The Visitors promise that they have only come for water and a "mineral which is common and abundant" on our planet.  In exchange for giving them access to our resources, they'll do nice things like help cure diseases, give us some swell new technologies, and generally make the world a better place.

Of course, the immediate question arises as to whether the Visitors are in fact of the nice, friendly, E.T. variety, or if they're more of the lay-waste-to-both-our-entire-species-and-planet-as-a-whole sort.  Their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin, Firefly), would certainly have us believe the former, but not every human is entirely convinced of their goodness and even in the first episode, a group of the population feels quite strongly that the Visitors are not all that they pretend to be.  It's a question which the show ought not take very long to answer definitively, particularly as anyone who has seen or heard of the original versions (or paid any attention to the name of the second miniseries) ought to already know definitively. 

The question still remains, as to how much this new series will forge its own way, and how much it will borrow from the original versions.  Assuredly, it will do its best to both appease fans and to bring new members into the fold.  ABC, though hugely successful with Lost and that show's mythology and sci-fi elements, has been less successful in launching other shows, like V, which may require significant devotion on the part of fans in order to be successful. 

That does not mean that ABC will not try their best however.  In fact, one can see from the cast alone, that they will.  The cast as assembled for the series, is most definitely a good one.  Outside of the aforementioned Baccarin, it includes Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Morris Chestnut (Boyz in the Hood), Joel Gretsch (The 4400), Scott Wolf (Party of Five), Lourdes Benedicto (NYPD Blue), Laura Vandervoort (Smallville), and relative newcomer Logan Huffman.  Many of the shows that the stars come from had (or have) significant fan following, something which ABC is almost certainly trying to leverage for V.

Primetime science fiction series have a spotty track record at best, and even though the word "frak" and other terminology used in science fiction shows may have become more common as of late, success in the genre tends to be elusive. One only need look at the massive success Heroes was for the majority of its first season and the way it has tailed off ever since for an example of this.

What V has going for it, though, is not just its pedigree – in terms of original as well as cast and crew for this version – but the fact that the pilot is certainly above average.  The characters' various stories, from Elizabeth Mitchell's FBI agent, to Scott Wolf's news anchor, to Joel Gretsch's priest, to everyone else's character are all interesting and show huge potential for development.  Not a perfect pilot, it unquestionably lags from time to time, V still shows significant promise in its first episode.

Several questions, however, remain.  While chief among these is the question of whether or not ABC can sell a sci-fi alien drama to the masses on a weekly basis, the question also exists about just how far the producers (whose various credits include The X-Files, Angel, and The 4400) can take the tale.  At the very least, V's pilot episode is strong enough – and the story itself interesting enough – that subsequent episodes ought to be sampled. 

V premieres on ABC, Tuesday November 3 at 8:00pm.  ABC's current plan is to air a mere four episodes in 2009 before having the show return in 2010 following the Winter Olympics.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://insomniacentertainment.com Luigi Bastardo

    I recall reading something somewhere that said they were scrapping this reboot. Evidently, that was not so. Either way, the original “V” was unforgettable to those of us over the age of 30 — and nothing can top the only other halfway decent performance that Marc Singer ever turned in.

  • Susan

    V actually stood for Victory, not Visitor. If you ever watched the original miniseries, you would have known that. Please make the necessary correction. Thanks!

  • http://tvandfilmguy.blogspot.com Josh Lasser

    Susan, the material I have in front of me indicates Visitor, but I have found references that suggest both. Consequently, I have altered the piece to reflect that.

  • http://tvandfilmguy.blogspot.com Josh Lasser

    And, Susan, for the record, while V may have stood for victory in the original (yes, I remember the spray painting), it is promo material for this one that refers to Visitors as “V’s.”

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I remember the original as being pretty cheesy, but it was tasty cheese (in a guilty pleasure sense).

    There were also analogies to the Nazis and the holocaust in there, where I have heard this new version offers up present-day political comparisons to certain leaders who offer “hope and change” (and no, it’s not even airing on FOX).

    For the record Josh, you’re use of “V” to denote both “Visitors” and “Victory” is also essentially correct.

    I’m actually looking forward to see what they do with this.

    -Glen

  • tim

    Never saw the original. Might not see the remake. But I read the book. It refers to “V for Victory,” comparing the Visitors to Nazis and the entire human race to the resistance. “V” was a symbol of hope for the resistance in World War II, and it became such in the book as well. However, since this is a remake, it could now mean whatever they want it to mean. So no more arguements please.

  • John Dobbs

    I remember the original and it had plenty of parallels to WW II and the Nazis. The story was more than just Aliens invading the earth. It was a story about how humanity. Interestingly enough you saw different facets, such as the sellouts who sold out their kin for profit, the cowards the rebels etc..

    My concern with the remake is will the storyline suffer? Is it going to be just a CGI fest of Alien attacks etc?

  • http://waftingcurtains.wordpress.com Chelsea Doyle

    I love the original, Syfy has been running a marathon of it now that the show is about to be remade. I’m very interested to see this one and I LOVE all the actors.

  • Matthew Jellison

    I saw the remake tonight and was not impressed all that much. I have been waiting for them to remake this classic, as I think it’s overall story, from the original book/80s version was one of the best examples of alien invasion/social commentary every made. However, this one falls kind of flat so far, and I don’t like some of the changes they’ve made. I’m eager to see how far they dropped the original version from it. So far it seems quite a bit. Oh, and to the ‘V’ comments earlier, I just got done watching the marathon, and it technically means Victory over the Visitors, but it’s meant to be a ‘play on words’ kind of thing. I also, for that reason, didn’t like the fact that they called them “V’s” for short in the remake tonight, vs. Visitors… I personally thought it was stupid, sounds more like a disease, and also takes away from the V standing for Victory thing…I really don’t think in real life we’d shorten it to V’s…but whatever! I guess we are talking about a media that calls my generation X and the next one Y, so…. They solidified their sign to the fans that it wasn’t going to stand for Victory anymore, by having those kids tagging ‘V’ for Visitors on the walls of graffiti(so as to explain the show’s red V title to the kiddies). It was, in my mind, one of many problems that arise partly from trying to cram too much of the story in one hour of very heavily commercially interrupted television. I thought they should’ve done at least a 2 hour premiere. I realize that many people already know from the previous version that the aliens are really reptiles, but just because you know the end of a book made into a movie, doesn’t mean you don’t like the buildup. I think it could’ve waited another episode at least. Having the ‘Reporter’ find it out, like in the tv version, is much more interesting/realistic. Incidentally, I found the reporter in this one’s difference from the original a staggering commentary all on it’s own. You know in the first of the TV series spin-off, Marc Singer’s charcter, Donovan is told by another character, that he thought he’d be a news anchor now, after everything he’d done, and he said something to the effect of “No. I’m a REAL news guy! My place is with a camera in the field.” or something like that. WOW! Don’t think that’d be today’s journalistic portrayal….Don’t think it’s going to be, either. Heh!
    I also didn’t like how they had the sleeper cells already here on earth. However, if they were going to do it, it didn’t make any sense…I mean, they got all these sleepers blending in, setting things up, but they didn’t think to have one become a reporter, so that they could use him/her, instead of trying to persuade a real human reporter?? come on!! Also, the sleepers/traitors can blend in/speak english real well… even look ‘ugly’ but the ones on the ship haven’t learned much from them, and can’t speak with emotions much/blend in at all? The traitors in the original changed their minds about humans partly because they KNEW the humans were going to end up being food. However, from the clips talking about next week’s episode, it seems that the sleepers that are here, or maybe just the traitors, don’t even know what it is they are going to do to the humans, which is contrary to the original. The original, they all, including the sleepers, would’ve been taking humans for food whenever possible, they liked them more than animals. So, that leads me to believe in the worst fear I have being true, which is that the ABC producers couldn’t stomach another version of cannibalistic aliens, and perhaps they are watering it down with some other diabolical plot in it’s place, like maybe they just want us as slaves or something? if that’s the case, I’ll probably stop watching the show, because the whole tricking us for food thing is the whole point of the original, and it makes for much better social commentary stuff too…like people selling each other out to survive just a little longer, that kind of thing… Also, having the same uniforms on, and NOT trying to blend among us, like they’re doing in the remake, seems to steal the other drastic imagery from the original, which was the Nazi-type theme of it. I want to see the Nazi stuff, because I often tell people that if Hitler would have had the technology to monitor/control people the way we can do it today, it would be hard to imagine ever having spies infiltrate his ranks, etc…and therefore would be scary to think about the different results it would create. SO, if they remove most of all that, then, it kind of defeats it as well… I don’t want them trying to do another version of BattleStar Galactica!!!?? I did like the dig that they made on ‘Independence Day’ in the remake, because I said the same thing to my friends when Independence Day came out….it stole heavily from V, among other sources.
    Now, I did think that they tried to put some ‘other’ types of social commentary in this one, seemed kind of anti-Obama/universal healthcare in it’s tone regarding ‘devotion’ to someone saving you, and flat out stating ‘universal healthcare’ as a way of garnering that devotion, so…. pretty brave, hope they aren’t planning on getting bailout funds at ABC anytime soon. I also thought it was odd, that in an up to date version of this thing, it seems so centered around one city (and was that New York? not LA? hmmm….didn’t hear any good NY accents….. I missed where it was, so maybe I’m off completely…they sounded like they were in Phoenix).
    I also wonder if they’re doing the whole starchild bit later? cause they reversed the human side of that relationship in the teen love affair, but maybe they’re going to do it with the african american reptilian traitor’s wife instead?? again, I really hate it when in the effort to be different from the original, they just change the gender/race of a few people to feel better about themselves….
    Hmm… that’s a lot to digest, but that’s my take on it. It was worth watching, and I’d like to see more, but if they drop the humans for food thing, and the nazi-type control thing, I’ll be passing, and that’s a big deal for me, cuz I have told people for years that they should remake V. Course, as a child, I prayed that God wouldn’t take me before the new Star Wars movies would come out, and look how disappointing that was for me…..LOL! sometimes the fantasy is best left as that. Sigh.

    P.S. I thought that instead of having ‘sleepers’ a better plot move, if they wanted that kind of thing, would be to have the ‘sick’ among us, like the disabled guy in the pilot, go to get ‘cured’ and end up being packed on ice for food processing, while a spy replaced them!! :)

  • ra azua

    Matthew Jellison said it best. a 2 hour tv movie premier would have gone a long way towards fixing the crammed 1 hr episode from last night. just like SGU this show has let me down big time. i would rather watch firefly or sg1 reruns than more episodes like this.

  • The new “V” is downright awful

    I love the original “V” Miniseries as well as The Final Battle, and I had low expectation for this new version. Good thing too – this show was even worse than I thought it could be! It’s downright awful. What a travesty of justice to the sci-fi genre. Forget 21st-century cutting-edge, gritty drama! No way, instead get flat, pale and boring tv that’s seriously lacking nuance and sophistication at every turn.

    I’ll just point out a few things that the original had that the new one lacks.

    Suspense:

    The best part of the original was how it took its time to introduce the Visitors. The ship hovered for several hours, after which it emitted a sound, and then a voice saying “we come in peace; we will meet you on top of the U.N. building at such and such time.” Thus we were able to enjoy the suspense of the wait, the ship coming down and the door opening, only to discover a human walking out named “John” who was the nicest guy, totally getting how to do the PR thing, as opposed to his more ruthless second in commande, “Diana,” who was just a real nasty peace of work. Lo and behold, the two faces of the Visitors. In the new one the ship arrives, “Ana” says hi, she’s cute but a little icey, and you see a ship flying over the Hudson on a TV screen for split second. Hooray. Best part over.

    In the original, the process of seeing what was aboard the mothership was gradual, and it came with a sense of fear. Donovan sneaks aboard a shuttle on a couple of occasions and gradually gets insights into who the Visitors really are and how far their web of deception goes. In the new one, we see within seconds a lovely digital city (open concept), which would be the envy of any HGTV program, shown to us by a typically American looking blonde girl. Ooohhh, I’m so lulled into a false sense of security.

    And introducing so early the notion that some of the Visitors don’t agree with the invasion and are to collaborate was a total waste of a good plot device. In the original, it is only when all hope is next to lost that we find out that we have friends among the enemy. Suddenly, after feeling that it would be a bitter fight to the end, there was a rejuvenation of purpose in the resistance, breathing new life into the series. The way they did it in the new one was just lame. Okay, we don’t know whose who. your spouse could be an alien. Fine. Introducing the sleeper cell concept is possibly not a bad idea, but don’t give it away so soon. Make me believe first that the aliens are aliens before you go and tell me that my wife is one too. Everything’s happened too fast already. Don’t blow your load.

    Sight and sound:

    The original had Visitors with bright red uniforms and distorted voices, which added to the sense that these people were indeed a military regiment from off-world. The new uniforms, when they are wearing them, make no impression. The reason the red uniforms (or any sharp colour for that matter) were so important was that over the course of the original series, you began to feel more and more constricted by the omnipresence of the Visitors. At first you’d see a couple walking side by side down a busy street in L.A., then a few more in suburbia, and as time passed you couldn’t go out and not notice them. There were Visitors on every street and it became ever more apparent that humanity was under occupation. this was a crucial theme.

    The term “V”:

    The fact that in the new version the spray-painted “V” has been turned into a “tagging” thing in support of the Visitors makes absolutely no sense to me. This is just dumb because it underminds the whole premise (and title) of the show – “V” stands for victory over the Visitors. It was the single most powerful theme in the original, so I don’t get why they decided to change that. It’s just dumb and deserves no further comment.

    What’s wrong with investing in new ideas?

    I don’t get the studios. Is it really so hard to just come up with fresh new ideas or do they need to re-hash everything they have the rights to? Kenneth Johnson must have crinched so hard when he saw his name attached to this travesty of a series premiere. I mean the guy didn’t even do The Final Battle because the studios wouldn’t give him a free reign. Now he’s gone and written a book that follows 20 years after the original Miniseries, and the anticipation was that it would be made into a movie or tv show. But no, they had to do a cheaper version of the original. Keep fightin’ the good fight, Kenneth. I’ll wait for it, and if I have to, I’ll read your book. I promise you this show won’t get out of its first season, and maybe then the studio will decide to try and make money with your (good) idea.

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    Awful, give it time. We might find that ‘V’ used as a victory cry turns out to be *more* effective given early tagging efforts.

    I’m also not convinced that ubiquitous gray will be less disconcerting than ubiquitous red. Wearing colorful clothing could be turned into a way to show support for the resistance, which would be a nice touch.

    Television has changed, society has changed, and most importantly, if they wanted to reproduce the original exactly, there would be no point. They’re also trying to set up an ongoing series, not just a week-long event, so the requirements are a bit different.

    They’ve got more leeway this time around to explore how conspiracy theories look from inside and out, how families can be torn apart even when it doesn’t involve red uniforms and obvious Nazi parallels, and more. It’s possible, just possible, they could produce something great.

    In any case, reproducing the original miniseries would have been pointless, so we’ll have to see if they come up with other ways to engage us.

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    I loved the original miniseries’ and series way back in the 80s… So this reimagining was interesting, but not all that compelling. I found myself predicting the outcome of each scene pretty accurately, which leaves it a bit “eh” for me. I’m going to give it another shot next week, but after watching the reboot of BSG, I think they could have done better with this. Oh well. :)

    Nice review Josh. Obviously it spawned some commentary!! :)

    –Fitz

  • Dave

    Its a shame people dont have a long enough attention span to let us have a slow burn show. Studios must be so scared that if everything isn’t in the first episode that before the episode is over people will be on the internet complaining that its too slow.

    Just make your shows people. If others dont like it and think they know better they can make their own.

    A camel is a race horse made by committee

  • John Lake

    Having seen the ads in advance of the Tuesday presentation, it would have been difficult to not watch.
    The program seems more fantasy than Sci-Fiction. Only in a fantasy could our Government be so un-involved. Consider too that although the arrival of the Visitors was a world-wide phenomonon, the Visitors Web Page apparently attracted only a handful of dedicated web searchers. And of these, a straggling few responded to the invitation to visit the Visitors craft. Also, floating apples does not rise to the level of a “special effect”. If the writing is good, the show may last a season or two.

  • ovovovova

    I was a huge fan of the original series as a very young boy, it was just incredible, mostly for the role of Diana and how cold blooded and calculating yet sexy she was.

    I’m getting the hint they’ve picked up on that aspect where they mentioned “going back” as some type of drug to be addicted to, like you’d give Anna anything at all, I guess they’re recasting her as a queen ant of sorts.

    I’m still really looking forward to seeing “Diana” again, and they have her in this series somewhere!!!

    Sadly, it’s off to a verrrryyy slooooooww start. I think one of the big things that’s just missing, mind you, is the music. The 80’s version was the epitomy of cheese, even for the day, especially the music, but it had a refrain? of sorts, that keyed your danger and fear responses so sweetly.

    I can tell by the drums, maybe they tried to revive that but it wasn’t enough. You don’t need to use a synthesizer or an organ or whatever the played out sound was, but it doesn’t even seem to have a recognizable sound as the show starts and ends to get you into the proper mindset.

    This was a terrible oversight, and I hope it’s one they fix.

    So I don’t leave them with 80’s V as an example, because it is rather bad musically, I would say plllease have a look at what Battlestar Galactica did with their musical score as a very fine example of what they should be doing.

    I should be trembling in terror everytime I’m on the mothership by the music alone.

    I also can’t help but notice they made the aliens human. When they used to have to wear the visors because they couldnt’ see in direct sunlight, that set them apart as the ennemy and gave them weakness all at the same time, as partly did the uniforms they wore.

    Hey, we’re three episodes in, and not a single wriggling mouse tail?!?!?! It’s like they want it to fail. I hope they get it together soon because I was so looking forward to this and by the third episode all I can say is Yawn, another sorry excuse for a soap opera masquerading as sci fi.

  • v for v.d

    why have they not eaten any mice yet

  • Dados

    Ok two years after the show started and after your comments. let s say the show is great. I also loved the original one but this one gives a more current and realist approach (The ressistance have already a military/police/mercenary experience). Also the plot gets more complicated and twisted which make it better. To sum up the original show was great for this time but if you put both toghether this will is starting to be better and if they don t cancelet it on the way, it will be better.