Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Verdict on V = Very Intriguing

All photos from ABC

Last night, ABC aired the ”V” pilot episode of the re-imagining of the 1980's miniseries of the same name, and it was an hour packed with action and suspense. The “V” stands for Visitors, and the show chronicles the arrival of aliens who call themselves The Visitors. They seem to be friendly and say they only want something from us that we have in abundance in exchange for some of their technology and other advances such as cures for certain human ailments. Even if you don’t know anything about the original 1980s series, you have a feeling that their niceness is phony and what they want from earthlings is far more than they let on. Pilot episodes usually try too hard to fit too much information into the initial outing, but in the case of “V”, they were able to establish the premise very quickly and move into the story without leaving viewers with a feeling of confusion.

The arrival of the aliens may have seemed like an earthquake to some, but when the reflections of something large in the sky begin to show up in the glass buildings, and a huge spaceship appears overhead, it becomes quickly obvious that this is no earthquake. Alien ships have appeared in all the major cities across the world in the same fashion. When the bottom of the ship, which faces the ground, transforms itself into a giant video screen with the image of a woman, everyone is transfixed. She looks human but she is not, she’s Anna (Morena Baccarin), the leader of the Vs. She tells the residents of earth – in all their native languages at the same time - that the Visitors have needs and are willing to exchange their advanced knowledge for some of our resources, and says they have arrived in peace. It’s the repetitive reinforcement of the “we come in peace” messages that makes me suspicious.

While some embrace the Vs and what they can do for humanity, such as cure many of our diseases; others do not have open arms. Two key characters, FBI Counter Terrorist Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and priest Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), are on the side of the cautious. Erica finds her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) jumping on the V bandwagon a little too quickly. He becomes smitten with one of them named Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) and signs up to join the Vs, forging his mother’s signature on a permission form to do so. Erica, while working counter terrorism, thinks she’s found a sleeper cell that seems to have ramped up activity at the same time the Vs arrived, gets her work partner Dale Maddox (Alan Tudyk) involved in trying to track them down.

Meanwhile, Father Landry is dealing with a church that suddenly is full of worshippers, and a pastor who wants Landry to tow the Vatican line and accept the Vs. But when a churchgoer comes into the church with a fatal injury he said was dealt to him at the hands of the Vs, the man hands Landry an envelope and tells him to go to a meeting with the envelope. Landry, suspicious of the Vs, decides to go.

In the background of all this is Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) who is planning on proposing marriage to Valerie Holt (Lourdes Benedicto). But when a friend of the past tries to rope him into some past activity that we don’t find out what it is right away, Nichols seems to want to back away from him.

News anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), gets pulled into the Vs plans when he connects in a brief Q&A with Anna and she decides he’s the one she wants. We later find she wants him to do a one on one exclusive interview and be the mouthpiece between the Vs and the TV audience. He balks when she says he can’t ask any questions that paint the Vs in a negative light, but when Anna reminds him this is his chance to make himself known world wide, he goes ahead with the interview, caving to her wishes. Clearly he compromised himself, although I think he now has serious doubts about the Vs.

Erica and Dale close in on what they think is a sleeper cell, but the cell always seems to be a step behind them. When they uncover what appears to be a meeting place, Erica goes in and is admitted without problems. Father Jack is also there with his envelope. Ryan’s friend is running the gathering, and it becomes clear quickly that this is no terrorist cell in the manner that Erica first thought – this is an anti-V cell. Each person must get a V-shaped cut behind their ears, and they are told that this is to prove they are not V infiltrators, as the V people have been here for years and they have lizard bodies underneath their human form. Erica is skeptical and asks for proof that the Vs have been here, and Father Jack brings out the envelope of photos, which include a photo of a person Erica thought was part of a sleeper cell but of whom they were unable to find any record of their existence. A mysterious object floats into the room, and after shouts to get down, the object shoots out some sort of projectile in an attempt to kill the meeting attendees. More people invade the meeting and a fight ensues, and Erica is shocked to see on of the people she is fighting is none other that her work partner, Dale. He is injured in the process and she sees a lizard form underneath his skin. She kills him on the spot (or so we think – he seems to appear in the show’s preview for upcoming episodes).

Ryan also comes to help save the day, much to his friend’s shock, seeing that Ryan didn’t seem interested in helping him before. But his friend is in for a shock when Ryan shows him a cut on his arm and lizard skin underneath. Ryan reassures his friend that he is not on the same side as the Vs and there are more of him there that do not support the Vs as well. Ryan decides he can’t propose to Valerie with all that is going on, but when he gets home, those plans get messed up when Valerie finds the engagement ring.

The cast seems solid, with Elizabeth Mitchell and Joel Gretsch both being very believable in their roles. Scott Wolf, as the anchor who now seems to have compromised himself by agreeing to Anna’s rules, looks more like a man-boy rather than a news anchor. I can’t help but thinking he looks like someone took the faces of Michael J. Fox and Tom Cruise and morphed them together. It’s the only person in the show that I felt just did not look the part. Morena Baccarin, on the other hand, is perfect as the cool and controlled Anna, with a face that can look almost uncomfortably calm and peaceful. But Erica’s son Tyler is a character that I have tired of already.

The effects are very good for television and they are able to convey very well the technological advancements of the alien beings.

The show tries to diffuse viewer comments that the series is just like other alien invader shows by bringing out the event’s similarities to the movie “Independence Day” or other sci-fi shows. It is very true there have been many TV shows and movies, V’s own 1980s series being one of them, which show aliens arriving in big space ships. The theme of aliens coming in peace, gaining trust, and then taking something from humans that they normally would not give is also not uncommon. V’s success will be how well they can develop its main characters and if they can weave a story that may be different than the first TV show of the same name. Despite the predictability, the series made a good start, and I am sure viewers will come back for more. However, I hope that the show doesn’t get too heavy handed on the social commentary, which seems to have crept in several scenes in this first episode, mostly with Erica and her son. The act of aliens arriving on earth will mean unavoidable references to the issue of how people accept foreigners so I don’t think they can avoid that issue. Current social and political issues probably will be raised often, so as long as the series doesn’t make these references too heavy handed or too obvious it should not drag down the show.

All in all, the pilot episode of V was a great start and I can see the series going in many directions that the original series could not go. With FlashForward still trying to find it’s way, V looks like it will be a winner for ABC.

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1 comment:

Michael said...

Nice write up, I have to agree with you, it was a solid first episode and basically moved through in an hour, what the miniseries did in the first one. Actor wise, I think they made some solid choices, although I kept thinking of Scott Wolf as a miniature version of Marc Singer, something in the face.

The thing I like is they did a nice job of distancing themselves from the original, but at the same time kept the feel of it.

I'm cautiously optimimistic they'll be able to keep some momentum and makeup for the failed series that ran after the miniseries.