10 April 2010

V - The First 6 Episodes

Developed by Scott Peters
Based on the 1983 series "V" created by Kenneth Johnson

Starring Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Logan Huffman, Laura Vandervoot, Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf

ABC Studios, 42 mins., 12 episode first season

The very idea of a alien invasion story is immediately very enticing. Basically, you announce it, I'm gonna watch it. I love them, and I can't wait to see how the Powers That Be execute the concept. However, with the inception of an alien invasion story, you really gotta have a lot of plot. Your main plot, subplots, subplots under those subplots, and some truly rich and three-dimensional characters. In order to survive cancellation and boast some sort of longevity, a series about aliens really, super-duper need those two big things: 1) lots and lots of stories, and 2) really, really interesting characters. Otherwise, the show is screwed right from the get-go.

I'm not quite sure where the newly re-imagined V series fits yet.

There's definitely room for plenty to develop, and there are hints of strong characters, but I'm not sure if it's enough, and I'm quite worried that with the remaining six episodes they might not be able to pull off the extraordinary. By that, I mean present us with something so amazing, so intriguing I have no choice but to return the next week, or at least mourn its (probable) cancellation like I did for Invasion several years back. (Threshold, not so much; though, I do need to give it another try) As it stands, V boasts some impressive performances, and just enough hints of something pretty damn good to keep me channeling it.

"Pilot" (original airdate: 11/03/09) starts the show off with the goods: the arrival of the 29 Visitor ships at different locations around the world - New York, Egypt, China, Japan, France, etc., etc. And the beautiful face of Anna (Baccarin) announcing herself to the entire world, and their declarations of 'peace'. The big characters of the show are introduced: the blond FBI Agent (Erica), the doubting pastor (Jack), the suit man with mysterious phone calls (Ryan), the rebellious teenager (Tyler), and the ambitious newscaster (Chad). Immediately, the show hits the ground running, and for that, it's a very strong, very plot-driven pilot that nicely sets up the characters and conflicts. My only real disagreement with the episode was it's normal 40 minute running time - a pilot with this grand of scale quite required a longer episode.

With the arrival of the Visitors, the plot fast-forwards three weeks as the outer spaceians are becoming a integrated part of our culture. The citizens have formed two groups - those against the V's and those for the V's. The government and religious centers are trying to come to terms with what this means, politically and spiritually. Chad is given the opportunity to interview Anna, basically the head of all Visitor operations; Tyler becomes aroused by Visitor Lisa who equally is aroused by him; Erica doesn't know what to think about them yet, but remains nonetheless reserved; Father Jack doesn't know what to make of the situation, as far as a alien race existing in God's universe; and Ryan has a secret past that seems to be knocking at his door again.

Right off the bat, within this first episode, lines are being made: there's a Resistance forming - small, but getting organized; and there's a V Peace Ambassador Program created for humans to help the V's. I'm not entirely sure if introducing these elements immediately was the best course of action - if I was the showrunner, there would be more ambiguity in the first few episodes, with no clear right and wrongs. Instead, by episodes end, a twist with a major character is revealed, one of the mains know somethings up and begins a journey to bring the V's down, and a rather prolific guest star receives the short end of the stick. That's a lot of stuff crammed into a 42 minute episode.

The good news is that it works quite well. To its detriment, though, I think the writers brought up too many elements of the overall story too soon. If the entire series run is going to be about the Visitors and their ulterior motives, the show cannot last. I can see this storyline - the Resistance versus Anna - lasting through the season, but a full-blown series? It needs more. But, again, the positives: pretty good casting - I love Scott Wolf as Chad, Baccarin is amazing as Anna, Alan Tudyk kicked major ass, and Laura Vandervoot is beautiful; tight writing, epic score, and ripe with potential. A great pilot.

The following episodes, "There Is No Normal Anymore" (original airdate: 11/10/09), "A Bright New Day" (original airdate: 11/17/09), and "It's Only the Beginning" (original airdate: 11/24/09) aren't amazing by any means, and don't match the "Pilot" in execution, but are still fine additions to a overall mythology. Now that the introduction is over, it's necessary to dedicate episodes to building up intrigue, to be all set-up for the big stuff. The Half-Blood Prince of TV land to the finale's Deathly Hallows, if you will. "There Is No Normal Anymore" doesn't really progress the plot, doesn't really feature a lot of momentum. There's Tyler and his ever increased desire to become the best V Peace Ambassador he can be so Lisa (Vandervoot) can fall in love with him and make little alien spawns of their own....OK, maybe not the spawn part, but the part that makes the spawn part happen. Chad begins to grow a little bit of a backbone, and it's here that he starts to become a interesting and favorable character.

Ryan's storyline doesn't seem to go anywhere. After the revelation of his true species, Ryan spends the second and third episode trying to locate other on-earth Visitors who have left their race behind them. He seeks new recruits for the Fifth Column, the Resistance fighters who oppose the Visitors and know all their dirty little secrets. Erica continues her distrust, Father Jack continues his doubtiness, and Ryan's friend Georgie still hangs around trying to be central to the plot, but really isn't.

"A Bright New Day" shows potential, though. The Visitors are given passports, becoming citizens of the world; Lisa continues her affair with Tyler, but seems to have ulterior motives and her own little cool revelation near the end; and a assassination threat on the Visitors concludes in a semi-predictable but nonetheless enjoyable manner. Oh, and there's a subplot about a grieving widow blaming the Visitors for her husbands death, which leads to a really cool short scene where Anna tries multiple consoling lines.

What the episode achieves is a intriguing plot that nicely meshes the Vs and humans together, the creation of a new also intriguing element to the Lisa/Tyler relationship, and the further advancement of the Visitors in our everyday lives that does create a new sort of jeopardy to the situation. So, not a bad episode overall, just could do with stronger writing and a faster pace.

Due to weird scheduling, ABC placed V on a four month hiatus after "It's Only the Beginning" for the Winter Olympics. So, there was a lot riding on its fourth episode, which could possibly had been its last if ABC just wanted to cancel it right then and there and be done with it. The conclusion is that it falls into "Brand New Day" territory - good, but not living up to its fullest potential. Erica, Ryan, and Father Jake - who've banded together to form their own little Resistance - take out a central property of the Visitors, which just might have some repercussions down the line (if there's any sort of continuity). Tyler is the right candidate for something that Anna and Lisa have brewing, but they remain irritably ambiguous as to what his function is. Chad gets some bad news from the Visitors while doing a story for the station, and that raises some questions for not only Chad, but also the audience.

The episode ends with a twist: unexpectedly - because Visitors can't procreate with humans (supposedly) - Ryan finds out his fiance is pregnant. And yes, with his child; not some random dude from a bar. Even if there was doubt, it's confirmed in the next episode. I can't say I'm exceptionally psyched for this new development, but I'll watch it evolve with interest. I'm sorta getting a Connor/Jasmine vibe from the fourth season of Angel. If you don't get my meaning, shame on you. Remedy this immediately.

V returned two weeks ago with "Welcome to the War" (original airdate: 03/30/10), which really was a episode of set-up. Anna's getting increasingly agitated by the Fifth Column and the Resistance, and her right hand man, Marcus, pleads for more soldiers. Anna concurs, and by episodes end, she assists with that (in one of the creepiest sex scenes I've seen on TV; however, her reptilian teeth were pretty cool). Fifth Column member Joshua gets a lot to work with in this episode, as Anna's crack down on the Resistance nearly costs him his life, but instead her wrath falls on one of his most trusted friends, concluding in quite the sad scene as Joshua must kill him (per Anna's orders). In regards to Erica, Ryan, Jake, Georgie, Tyler, and Lisa - yeah, nothing new, nothing interesting.

Er, scratch that. They do enlist the aid of a mercenary, Kyle Hobbs (Charles Mesure), in "Pound of Flesh" (original airdate: 04/06/10) to bring down the Visitors. Apparently Hobbs is on the FBI's most wanted list, like one of the top names, and the Visitors planted something on him and Erica uses that as leverage to entice Hobbs into joining the team. Reluctantly, he sorta signs on. I don't quite understand the sudden "Holy shit! We need to take this guy out, like, yesterday fast!" attitude the Vs have about this guy, thinking he'll reign hell-fire upon them, but whatever - I'll go with it. Alright, so we got a terrorist dude who wants to kick some V ass - finally, maybe this Resistance we've had forming and forming and forming the last five episodes will start to do some real damage!

Meanwhile, Ryan's fiance is getting really, really hungry, and not in your typical 'I need Burger King, stat!' type of way. So, naturally, Ryan's concerned, and has concluded the only way to save her without killing her is retrieving a very special something something that is only located on V ships. That so fortuitously coincides with the Resistance's need to promote a message that will interrupt Anna's global-wide video feed, a message to call all Resistance fighter to arms. Ryan boards the New York Visitor ship, and displays a bit too much humanistic qualities to get himself caught. Luck is on his side, though, and meets up with Joshua and another Fifth Column member onboard the ship - hope is starting to emerge.

Erica brings Tyler to his father's (?) house (Nicholas Lea, Kyle XY) to stay away from the Vs, but Lisa will have none of that. Georgie boards the Visitor ship to 'save' Ryan, and ends up getting captured and tortured. At night, after Valerie (Ryan's fiance) drinks that super special stuff Ryan stole, we get a rather freaky shot of her stomach as the alien hybrid swiggles around with its tail quite visibly outlined.

So, six episodes in, what's the verdict? Will V survive as a series? If it gets canceled, would it have worked? Is it strong enough? Overall, the answer I'd give is no. Sorry if I seem like I'm repeating myself, but as it stands, there's not enough elements in the plot to keep this baby going. If the intent was the entire time to be a singular season show, akin to the original '83 miniseries, than fine, continue ahead. But if they're thinking up to a season three or even five, I'd be intrigued what they would cook up, but as of right now, there's nothing to hint at a ongoing storyline other than 'we need to fight the Vs.' The best thing this show has going for it are the actors.

Sci-fi TV vet Morena Baccarin of Firefly and Stargate: SG-1 fame is truly chilling and amazing as Visitor Head Honcho Anna. It's her cold, calculating performance and personality that truly keeps me coming back week after week. Another Visitor, Joshua, played by voice actor Mark Hildreth, is mesmerizing onscreen. His character is quite rich with possibilities - a traitor working amongst the Visitors, needing to keep his facade until the battle commences - and his performance mirrors those interesting facets perfectly. When I write this, I'm thinking about his awesome moments in episodes five and six, where he's confronted with a truly emotionally driven sequence, but needs to withhold any and all personal attachments as to not give himself away - including skinning a best friend (if 'friend' is the right word to use in context of the Vs).

Alan Tudyk (also from Firefly) is featured in three episodes, and he was phenomenal in every frame. I just wish and hope he returns to grace V with his typical charming menace. And finally, Scott Wolf (Everwood), who begins the series as a jackass news reporter but ends up with quite the dimension to his character. As in, he's just not a one-note trash-head. He's morally torn, and it's interesting to watch his character make his decisions, and see the results of them. His arc seems to be catching up steam in the next episodes, so I'm quite excited.

As for the other actors, including Lost love Elizabeth Mitchell - less crazy about, although Laura Vandervoot (Smallville) gives a serviceable and childlike performance to her Lisa character.

One final thing - I was surfing the net looking for some good V posters, and came across one with Anna and Erica's faces with a the word 'us' on the left, a big V in the middle, and 'them' on the right. Actually, this poster nicely epitomizes what the storyline is right now, at least in the grander sense. Erica and Tyler seem to be two important people to the Visitors, and Anna and Lisa are two important people to Erica and Tyler, respectively. What the poster illustrates, is that the show is about, first and foremost, family. The Visitors in their emotionless lives who function for maximum efficiency; Erica and Tyler, a broken family who will possibly become united or separated by Anna and Lisa - at least, that's how it's being set up. I could be looking way too much into it, but I thought the poster works. Anyhow...

If the writers can regain the momentum and tight writing of "Pilot", and cultivate a story with multiple avenues to pursue in future seasons, than V just might have a shot at being something special, something that becomes 'can't miss TV'. The trouble is that, according to the ratings, people aren't tuning in, and this very well might be as inevitably canceled as Dollhouse. I will say that I'm intrigued - the show is pretty, there's some great actors, interesting enough storylines, and I didn't watch six episodes to not see the conclusion of this Fifth Column storyline, so I'm sticking with V. I recommend you Fancast the episodes, give it awhile to warm up to you. Just make a small effort to get into it, and if you find yourself not digging the program, fine - not harm, no foul. But I'm personally tired of sci-fi shows getting canceled, and V looks like it just might turn into something grand, so let's show some support. At the very least, boys, you got Morena Baccarin to look at. And an alien invasion story to boot! I'd say those are some pretty strong persuading factors, myself...

Images from VisitorSite.net. And it was simply coincidence two of the three photos has Morena Baccarin in them.


Rachel said...

Great write-up! I totally agree that this show doesn't have staying power as the it stands now. They've done far too much in such a short period of time that they'd have to do some fancy creative writing to expand it beyond one season.

But if the U.S. could do it to The Office, anything's possible.

A.P. Simon said...

Thank you, Rachel! I guess if the writers entered this series with the knowledge that in all probability the show was going to be a one season thing (as the case seems to be), the amount of stuff happening in these first episodes makes sense. But if the intent was for this to be but part of a larger series - yeah, they're screwed. I'd recommend they get advice from Howard Gordon and the people at "24" - how they've been able to craft 24 movie-like episodes PER SEASON for eight years boggles my mind!

LOVE the OFFICE comment! Haven't watched it in what feels like eons, but you are so totally right! Now I sorta feel that way with GREY'S ANATOMY - which I don't watch, I just can't possibly see how they've stretched it out this long.