During the Bush years (2000-2008), a right-wing science fiction TV series from the late-1970s, Battlestar Galactica, was re-imagined as a liberal enterprise that commented on the bungling of the Iraq War and critiqued our government following the 9/11 attacks.
Individual episodes of the new Galactica series involved illegal torture, a West/Middle East-type religious-type schism and other trademarks of the 21st century's turbulent first decade.
Last night, a leftist science fiction TV series from the late 1980s -- and one that took dead aim at the Reagan Era -- was re-imagined as a paranoid, right-wing, anti-Obama production.
Yep, the evil aliens of the re-imagined V arrive on Earth offering three things: "hope," "change" and "universal health care." These reptilian invaders apparently don't appreciate "fair and balanced" news broadcasts, either.
Heightening the parallel to our President, these conquering aliens "spread the word" of their good deeds by "tagging" locations across the globe with one valedictory alphabet letter. No, not the ubiquitous "O" of 2008's Obamamania, but rather the "V" of the Visitors. The pilot episode culminates with a warning against seeking "saviors" anywhere but in a Christian Heaven; another thinly-veiled barb at our Muslim, Socialist Commander-in-Chief.
So basically, Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here has been transformed into The Glenn Beck Show.
If you read my blog with any regularity you know I'm unabashedly, proudly liberal, but you also know, I hope, that I don't always tow the party line. I was not the world's biggest fan of the new Battlestar Galactica, for instance, because I felt that even though it matched my ideological and political bent, it was lacking in imagination, crushingly obvious, and it became the tiresome equivalent of Clue in Outer Space. (The fifth and final Cylon was Colonel Mustard on the Galactica...). I think my opinion was ultimately vindicated by the dopey, disappointing way the series ended (basically an insulting wave of a magic wand that said "God Moves in Mysterious Ways.")
Thus far, I feel the same way about the re-imagined V as I did about BSG starting out, but only in this case I get the added bonus of disliking the show's politics too. Not because I believe Obama is above criticism (and I've already criticized him here on the blog for not pursuing a torture investigation...) but because it has only been eleven months since he took office and he hasn't actually done anything yet to merit the high level of hatred and wacky rhetoric we see coming from Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck and the Tea Baggers.
I mean, have we found the FEMA Camps yet? Are our children being forced into re-education camps and someone forgot to tell me? Hell, our taxes haven't even gone up...
At least when the new BSG took on the Bush Years, Bush had been in office for awhile and had actually done something egregiously stupid like, I don't know...invading the wrong country. Obama hasn't had that kind of Senior Moment yet, so the new V feels like a wacky pre-emptive strike from Sarah Palin. It's not responding to anything substantive in the culture...just hysteria and fear; the very fear and hysteria that NY-23 rejected last night.
Leaving aside the politics, the new V doesn't work for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it fails to engage the emotions; the heart. There's no build-up to the arrival of the alien ships, and therefore no suspense in the delivering of Anna's (Morena Baccarin's) message.
Worse, a resistance group (already formed, apparently to save the show's dull-as-dishwater characters the trouble of starting from scratch...), already knows that the Visitors are reptilian, which means we don't even get a good jolt moment out of the revelation here. True, fans of the original series know that the Visitors are reptilian aliens, so the surprise is ruined anyway. But that doesn't mean the new show shouldn't attempt to mine a little drama over the fact that LIZARD NAZIS ARE TAKING OVER OUR PLANET!!!! Why remake V if you aren't going to make it a little bit scary?
And -- come on! -- no gerbils were even harmed during the pilot episode of the new V. I'll never forget watching the original mini-series back in 1983, and mid-way through the show Diana's jawbone unexpectedly elongated and she swallowed that poor rodent whole. My heart practically beat through my throat for the rest of the show. The next day at school, it was all anybody was talking about. Did you see that?!
Again, you can't pull the same surprise twice, but it would have been nice if V had attempted to thrill in us in some little way; if it had turned expectations upside down, or staged a really wicked, macabre moment about the alien nature. Here, even the revelation of the green lizard skin is almost a throw-away; with no real impact.
The teleplay was pretty weak. On at least two occasions, protests against the Visitors are mentioned. What are people protesting? Why are they protesting? The episode never tells us. Is it because they are illegal immigrants, spreading leprosy? In the original mini-series, the scientists protested the Visitors because scientific evidence proved that the aliens were hiding things about their technology, about their biology. The Visitors then scapegoated the scientists, equating them with terrorists.
But in the new show...there's just "protests." Like almost everything else in the show, this feels like a throwaway plot device that we're supposed to forget about in five minutes anyway. Another example of inconsistent writing: the aliens arrive and pulp a U.S. military plane (we see the pilot land on the street, dead...), but moments later the people of the Big Apple (who just witnessed his death) are cheering because the Visitors "say" they come in peace. Huh?
If all this isn't bad enough, we get a little Twilight-lite in a subplot involving a horny teen kid and a hot Visitor "peace ambassador." Again, the original V involved a complex (and worthwhile plot) about a teenage girl who befriended and ultimately slept with a Visitor soldier. But there, the relationship functioned as a component of an Anne Frank allegory about a scientist's family seeking a place to hide; about collaboration and resistance. Here the teen angle plays like just a ratings grab with CW pin-ups.
So the new V is bad politics and bad drama. If I have to I'll live with the bad politics, but I'd like to see the show get smarter and scarier. The world has been invaded by evil aliens...and I wish the new V made me care just a little bit about that fact.