Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TV REVIEW: V: "There is No Normal Anymore"

Last week, I didn't have much complimentary to say about ABC's re-imagination of the 1980s classic V. The new series pilot was woefully flat; lacking in suspense, scares, visual distinction, and much by way of interesting characters.

The second episode, last night's "There Is No Normal Anymore," isn't much of an improvement. In fairness, the sophomore episode opens with a full-head of steam. We get signs that the Visitors are illicitly monitoring and intercepting earthbound 911 telephone calls, and also witness another Visitor seeker weapon in action (though it resembles a CGI version of the famous Phantasm ball...).

There was even one sequence last night that actually accelerated the heart-beat a bit. Specifically, the hunky, cussin' priest and Agent Evans were interrogated -- in separate settings -- about their individual encounters with the Visitors. The sharp cross-cutting here did a good job of building tension. At least until it was all bled away by the 20 minute mark...

But other than that aggressive start? The new V most decidedly lacks imagination and, perhaps more importantly, science fiction color. I wonder how long it will be before we get interviews with the producers declaring that V isn't supposed to be science fiction at all, because everything indicative of the genre is downplayed here to an alarming extent. For instance, there's been zero on-screen speculation about the Visitors' world of origin, their technology, or even the idea of parallel evolution, since the Vs apparently (on the surface...) so closely resemble human beings. Wouldn't someone on the 24 hour cable networks be talking about alien biology, alien ship design, anything?! How about civil defense matters in the case of a surprise attack?

Worse than this apparent oversight, our lead -- Agent Evans -- has apparently taken it entirely in stride that the Visitors are humanoid Lizards in men's clothing. She's very upset, you see, that her FBI partner of seven years is a traitor and possibly a terrorist. But she never expresses astonishment or horror that, gee, he's also a sentient reptile. In fact, nobody comments on that at all this week. It's almost like, behind-the-scenes, the makers of V are actually embarrassed by their very premise.

Damningly, the new V doesn't even seem to know what the Visitors are doing here on Earth yet, either. Perhaps the show is hedging its bets because of all the behind-the-scenes turmoil, but it means, in practice, that we get a lot of shots of High Commander Anna simply staring at underlings; possibly bemused; possibly sinister; possibly impatient. Your guess is as good as mine. But three or four of these shots an episode is just gilding the Lilly; at least until we have a better idea of what she's thinking.

Costs must be out of control on the new series too, judging by the dearth of effects shots and interesting sets in last night's show. In the original V, we saw more laser blasts, more alien make-up, more ship take-offs and landings, more mother-ship interiors in a single hour than we have seen in the first two episodes here. Again, there's just nothing in this re-imagination that remotely suggests "event" television or a sense of scope commiserate with the idea that aliens have arrived on Earth for the first time. Agent Evans declares "there is no normal anymore," but the problem with the new V is that, pretty much, everything is exactly as it was before. People still go to work; people still send their kids to school; everyone still watches 24 hour news and worries about TV ratings. The alien problem ranks about as high as illegal immigration, health care, or the winner of the next American Idol, it seems.

Honestly, if aliens hovered over our cities and wanted to open diplomatic relations, claiming to be "at peace, always," wouldn't our government (or the Chinese Government, or the Russian government...) respond: okay, space brothers, but in the meantime, how about vacating our sovereign airspace and backing the fuck off? If I were President, my answer would be: I would be happy to consider diplomatic relations with your people. Till I decide, all your ships and personnel are to remain in orbit around the moon. But the new V can't even imagine that the premise of the show is real, and thus the show itself doesn't feel like a thoughtful meditation on an alien arrival.

My gut instinct about the new V is that it is attempting for a fast, earthbound 24-vibe -- with aliens as terrorists -- but at the expense of the intelligent, science fiction allegory of the original.

Virtually by definition, that seems like dumbing down.


  1. I totally afree with you. Compare the original to this remake -- there are no surprises or dramatic tension in the new version. And don't get me wrong, I'm rooting for the new V to succeed but so far it's been a big let down. I can't imagine anyone weho has never seen V being excited by this show, and the rest of us who love the original, well, there's no comparison. I hope things get better for this show.

  2. Hey Nick,

    The original show (and especially the first miniseries...) was sexy, smart and scary. The new show doesn't hit any of those marks.

    It just feels...very pedestrian.


  3. It is interesting (and damning) that there's no substantive discussion of the Visitor's theology, philosophy, history, culture, etc. The conceptual treatment of the V is at best pedestrian and at worst infantile. (In some ways it reminds me of SG1. There's no real engagement of deeper issues--the show is superficial and lacks any deeper cultural value. Instead, it opts to focus on relationships--at the expense of examining the more profound implications of such a life-shattering phenomenon).

    Additionally, there are just too many holes and nonsensical points. E.g., if the V traitor *really* wants to fight the V, why doesn't he just go on TV and expose himself as a reptile?

    The show is filled with idiocy. Perhaps, however, it is we who've misread the audience. Perhaps their targeted viewership is tweens. This is a market I don't understand, but if this is the case then maybe they're onto something.


  4. Pete:

    I agree with every word in your comment. There's absolutely no engagement with anything below the surface.

    And all the "surface" stuff (effects, etc.) is dull, dull, dull.

    Maybe it is for tweens, but if so, god help them.


  5. As I said about that POS Leaving Gravity or whatever it's called, this show is just more 'mundane' SF as The X-Files or the new BSG. It's all made for mundanes because they can't stand overt sci-fi trappings or a different universe from all the crap they watch daily. Before BSG, we could watch sci-fi shows secure in the knowledge they looked somewhat different from today's life on Earth, or that aliens were different. Now thanks to it, all we will get is this and nothing else (and no John, X-Files is also to blame for this as well, because mundanes that I knew said that they wouldn't watch Star Trek: TNG or DS9 or Babylon 5, but they'd watch X-Files 'because it had no strange alien creatures in it' (what a classmate told me when she saw an ad for a Topps X-Files trading card set on a issue of Starlog that I had with me.) They love this crap, mostly because like most mundanes, SF is still 'that silly garbage' and it has to be made mundane to suit their tastes.

    I tell you, we need some teaching of SF literature in schools, and abandonment of any PC-orientated literature only classes.