November 10, 2009

new show review: v

It's a little late, but I want to weigh in on "the most talked about pilot of the season." ABC loves that line. It might actually be somewhat true this time though. Delaying the premiere until November was a smart move for the network because V premiered right when everyone was starting to get bored with buzzing about the new fall shows. Problem is, we'll only see 3 or 4 episodes before the winter hiatus, and it's not clear if the show will return before or after the Olympics.

Anyway, let's get into it. I've only seen the pilot so far, and I'm coming into the story of V as a newbie. As I said here, after some Wiki research, I learned that V was a two-part miniseries written by Kenneth Johnson that aired in 1983. Johnson wrote a sequel miniseries called V: The Final Battle to conclude the story. As networks often do, NBC decided to keep it going by creating a series in 1984. Johnson parted ways with the project, and the show only lasted one season. The new series is a remake/reconceptualization of the story - an extraterrestrial race arrives on Earth with seemingly good intentions, only to slowly reveal their true machinations the more ingrained into society they become.

With that bit of background, I started into the pilot. The first 5 minutes moved quite quickly...very much in the style of Lost or FlashForward. Not to dwell on the comparison, but I thought V had a better disaster intro than FlashForward. What initially seems like an earthquake hitting the entire planet, turns out to be a fleet of space ships hovering over the major cities across the world - the special effects around the ships are pretty amazing.

During these scenes, we meet Erica Evans, an FBI agent, played by Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) and her son Tyler played by Logan Hufman. Also, her friend and partner Dale Maddox played by Alan Tudyk (Firefly, A Knight's Tale). Then we have Ryan Nichols played by Morris Chestnut (The Best Man, Ladder 49) and his girlfriend Valerie Holt played by Lourdes Benedicto (The Nine, 24). And cautious priest Father Jack Landy (Joel Gretsch). Finally, there's Scott Wolf (Everwood, Party of Five) playing local newscaster Chad Decker.

The "Visitors" introduce themselves by way of a videocast of their (conveniently) beautiful leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin), who promises they have come in peace and are met by applause from most civilians watching in the streets. Right off the bat, Erica is skeptical. She and Dale begin investigating a terrorist sleeper cell they believe may be connected. I imagine they're not the only law enforcement personnel in the world doing so, but of course, we're to believe they are.

If the Visitors just learned about Earth, why are they so easily adapting to Earth culture? Anna held a press conference. Many of the most experienced public speakers on this planet cannot pull that off. Science fiction, suspend belief.

I'm having a bit of a hard time seeing Elizabeth Mitchell as a cop-type (and as a mother to a teenager), but I think that's lingering Lost attachments. She's consistently authentic in her performances, and I like Tudyk playing her partner. They start to uncover some fishy stuff related to a terrorist sleeper cell, including stockpiles of hidden C4 and a murder victim.

We always believe aliens will have much cooler modes of transportation - this is certainly no exception. Tyler and his friend ride a V shuttle to the mother ship with a bunch of other curious humans. This ship is all kinds of rad. They must think humans are living like pilgrims. The lucky boys confirm the theory that all Vs are attractive, including Lisa (Laura Vandervoot), who tries recruiting them for a V ambassador program. They're too young to join, but not too young to get roped in.

Meanwhile, Father Landry sees an influx of attendees at Mass looking for support and answers, including a man claiming to have been healed of paralysis in his legs. They all seem inspired with renewed faith since the arrival of the Vs. He's not convinced this is good news. Soon after, he's visited by a gravely injured man who turns over an envelope of information about the dangerous Vs.

Turns out Ryan (Chesnut) has a connection to the case that Erica and Dale are investigating. He has a shady past connected to some kind of citizen vigilante group. Erica finds an invitation to one of these meetings believing it's tied to the sleeper cell. She goes to check it out by herself because that's what badass female television cops do. Erica learns that the group (Father Landry's there too) has formed in resistance to the Vs. They claim this is not the Vs' first appearance on Earth, that they are disguised by cloning human flesh over reptile skin and are implementing a plan for decades to exterminate the human race by infiltrating all facets of life. The leader of the group warns against their plan to gain the trust of all mankind with the promise of friendship and technology - the "saviors" of mankind.

Meanwhile, chronically underachieving newscaster Chad has been chosen by Anna for an exclusive interview. The writers haven't given him much depth yet, but superficially, Scott Wolf is the perfect choice for this character. The pre-interview begins with Anna asking Chad to refrain from "asking questions that will portray them in a negative light." She threatens to cancel the interview without this guarantee, basically threatening him. Britney Spears is wishing she had this woman running the show about two years ago. He proceeds with the interview.

Anna claims the Vs have evolved to expel all negative feelings. They care only about tranquility and peace. She's a real sweet talker, this one. She goes on about their plans to open a healing center in every major city across the world (universal healthcare). This starting to sound a little familiar?

Back at the meeting, Father Landry shows proof of Vs living on Earth - photos from the dying man at the church - including one of the sleeper cell terrorist that Erica is investigating. A sleeper cell of Visitors? Suddenly, the meeting is invaded by a scary floating computer bomb and some really violent dudes. Ryan shows up at the last minute to kick some butt, and it turns out Erica can hold her own too. Mid-fight, Erica realizes she is fighting Dale. Guess what? He has reptile flesh. He is one of them. Damnit. I did NOT see that coming. So much for that partnership.

In the end, we see Tyler forge his permission slip to become a V ambassador. Erica didn't see Ryan at the meeting, but we do seem him talking to the group leader revealing that he also has reptile flesh. He claims to be a trader/deserter who promises to help defend the Earth against the Vs. Is he telling the truth? Is Dale a trader/deserter too? Looks like Erica will be joining the resistance group along with Father Landry. She observes, "They arming themselves with the most powerful weapon out there...devotion."

I won't get into the political parallels and symbolism of the show right away, but I do think some of the major themes are not surprisingly convenient for the current political climate. Overall, the pilot was really compelling. I think there are two types of pilots - those that can stand on their own as mini-movies and those that set up a bunch of scenarios and questions for the season. The best ones do both (Lost still has the number one spot), but I think this was more of the latter.

This may be because I haven't been enjoying FlashForward lately, but I can safely say V currently has a DVR reservation as my favorite new sci-fi action drama. At least until Lost comes back. (UPDATE: I lied. That spot still belongs to Fringe for the time being).


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