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V: A review of the first episode
The Question
I watched the new series V last night. Rather than actually work this morning, I decided to write a review, because dammit I have things to say!

Overall: B-

While this review may seem harsh, it is because it is often easier to point out the flaws than to celebrate the successes. That said, though, I feel strongly that certain aspects could have been handled differently to bring a stronger show to the table. Because there is stigma attached to being a ‘scifi’ show, the challenge is not to be a good scifi show, but to be a good show that happens to be scifi.

First off, I’m embarrassed to say that it took me much longer than it should have to realize that Anna is played by Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra from Firefly and Serenity). Other recognizable actors included Alan Turdyk (Wash from Firefly and Serenity, as well as a character on Dollhouse), Joel Grestch (Tom Baldwin from The 4400), and I swear just a glimpse of Rekha Sharma (Tory Foster from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica) in previews for the upcoming season. Maybe they curse their luck that they’ve been labeled ‘genre’ actors, but I respond positively when there are actors I can recognize, especially from other sci-fi shows.

The opening feels like a rip-off of Independence Day which they try to side-step with a supposedly ironic reference to it early on. It fell flat for me. The arrival of the Visitors (or “Vs” as they refer to themselves) creates pretty standard panic in the streets, although I was a little (pleasantly) disturbed by the image of a jet pilot floating down to the streets on his parachute, already dead. I appreciated that they took the time to show the first big announcement in many languages, and loved that the once panicked crowds applauded afterwards.

The biggest problem of the entire episode was the writers’ need to set up the conflict. It resulted in a lot of problematic threads. Why was the FBI agent more interested in terrorists than the Vs, and why are we spending so much time on this unless it ultimately (and obviously) has something to do with the aliens? Why is a fatally injured man carrying incriminating pictures and giving them to a priest? Who the hell is this ‘resistance’ and why is there already something to resist?

All these clunky plot points converge on one scene: a horrible info-dump of a resistance meeting that seeks to clearly set up the basic conflict of the series, that the Vs are bad. It also serves to push three of the main hero characters into a connection that seemed painfully forced, especially when it came to the FBI agent meeting the priest.

I understand that there needs to be tension, there needs to be a conflict and a climax in both an episode and a season. But I felt this was handled badly. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the ambiguities brought to me by Battlestar Galactica, but I prefer the hinting of malice found in the interactions with the Vs over a clear cut “they are the enemy”. That question of ‘are they really bad?’ could be mined for quite a while, and would lead to a lot of interesting modern social parallels (extremism, fanaticism, bigotry, even terrorism).

And don’t even get me started on info-dumps. Those just seem like lazy-writing.

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, the whole idea of Vs masquerading as humans and ‘you don’t know who to trust’ seems awfully familiar… I just hope they find ways to make that tension their own, instead of looking like they are mimicking another scifi work.

Another problem, sad to say, are most of the “human” characters. The FBI agent seems wildly inconsistent as a mother and as an agent. Additionally, her first true action in the series is to flaunt her FBI status to get special treatment, which is denied, and she does what she wants anyway. Maybe it’s meant to make her seem like an outsider, a rebel, but it made her seem entitled and unsympathetic.

As much as I like recognizing Joel Gretsch from The 4400, I have to admit that I’ve never connected to him as an actor. In my mind, he’s like a humorless and stiffer version of Nathan Fillion, and I basically refuse to accept any version of Nathan Fillion that is not the pure, delightful original. And Joel as a priest doesn’t feel authentic yet.

We also have the characters of the resistance. Even before the horror of the info-dump, I was not a fan of any of these members. The changed-man-with-a-past seemed like over-complication to a story that should be about dealing with the Vs. The leader trying to pull him back in was instantly annoying. And changed-man being a rebel V? In keeping the icky resistance meeting, it was too soon of a reveal. If I managed to go back in time and stop that scene from ever being penned, then that would be the hook the character needed.

Changed-man’s fiancé is just a story tool at this point. She needs a story of her own instead of just being the “human woman who is loved by a V in disguise” that I fear will be the only way she will be used by the writers this season.

Redeeming main characters consist of FBI Agent’s son and the new anchor played by Scott Wolf, but both have to step it up a bit to remain interesting. The son rebelling against his mother by accepting the Vs is nothing startling or unexpected, but there’s a true sense of hope and devotion behind his choices that steps out of the standard teenaged rebellion. Let’s just keep this romantic bullshit to a minimum, please? News anchor being asked to compromise his principles for the chance to be the Vs spokesperson is the kind of moral questioning I like. I want it to be drawn out, though. He needs to either crash or rebel, but it can’t be in the next episode.

With all this in mind, I have to say the most interesting and compelling parts of the show were the Vs themselves. I find Anna to be a wonderful mix of warm and dangerous. Kudos to Morena for making me feel the way any human in that situation would. I like you, but I’m a little scared you’ll eat me. Alan Turdyk is great because, well, he’s Alan Turdyk. Having him turn out to be a V disguised agent seems like a weaker version of the Whedonesque twist for his character on Dollhouse (wow, am I being unfair with all these comparisons?), but I’m still glad he’ll be back later in the season. The blond V (the ‘romantic interest’ for FBI son) is missing the subtle hint of danger that Anna has, but brings a sense of the earnest cultist and recruiter.

From scenes of human devotion to the Vs to the delicately dangerous interview between Anna and the news anchor, this was what I was in love with. This was true unheimlich, the uncanny, the sense of the familiar that is twisted just enough to make it alien. It was subtle, it was the places that the writers are actually holding their cards closer to their chest.

Do I have other, smaller quibbles? Yes, like why the high commander chose to be over New York out of all the world, what was causing the earth-rumblings when the V ships seems to fly in from the countryside, or why the conversation of ‘only ask nice things in this interview’ waited to happen until 2-minutes to go-live. Yet all these things are points I seem willing to concede as just conceits of the genre and the medium.

The real question is: will I keep watching? And to this I can say yes, for a couple reasons. The series has potential, especially now that we are done with the info-dump that was deemed necessary to set up the drama. The scenes with the Vs (particularly Anna) are intriguing. I want to support scifi on network television because I believe it’s a very relevant style of storytelling and needs exposure to lose the stigmas attached.

And even for all the flaws I may have seen, I do still want to know what comes next. In the end, that’s what matters in a story like this.

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just curious, what would you give the original V?

Actually never watched it. Not sure if that hurts (because I cannot fully appreciate the reimagined aspects) or that helps (because I cannot make direct comparisons).

couldn't tell you. jake watched it and said it was good (though he kept insisting it was only a 5-part miniseries, whatever he meant by that).

i watched it with my mom when i was sick in elem school and hated it.... so it's sorta a tossup.

I just finished watching the pilot episode, so I'm still processing what I saw and what I think... I agree with you in some points, but I think I disagree in some. I will say, however, that several of your complaints are things that were carried over directly from the original miniseries.

V was last night? Well, damn.

I'm sure they must be re-airing the first episode at some point soon. Gotta get as much mileage as they can out of it, especially since it was considered a successful premiere.

I dunno. I looked in the TV guide and didn't see one, up through the next episode. Looks like they will be putting a version online (with commentary) this Saturday. So perhaps my first viewing will be with commentary. That will be odd.

That's weird. I'd think it would at least air 'clean' for a little while on hulu.

Hulu! Yes! It will! This Saturday. Excellent.

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