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We Are Of Peace

November 4th, 2009

Last night, after finally winning the three-day Battle of the Kitchen Faucet (see previous post about my new love of the hacksaw in solving stubborn plumbing issues), I settled in with my daughter “Liz” to watch the first episode of the V remake.

All in all, I was very pleased with it. It was respectful of the source material while offering some intriguing new twists.

The main characters weren’t direct copies of the originals, but several seemed to be analogues of the old cast. There was the slinky alien commander, the news reporter given the chance to become the Visitors’ chief propagandist, the kid who fell under the spell of the Visitor youth corps, and the alien sympathizer in love with a human. And my memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I recall that the Catholic priest in the old V: The Final Battle miniseries was originally written as a younger character similar to the one featured in last night’s pilot.

There was a sly joke about the familiarity of the “aliens parking their motherships over Earth’s cities” trope. A news report presenting “man on the street” reactions featured a pair of sci-fi geeks. Excited Geek: “Dude, this is Independence Day!” Surly Geek: “Which was a rip-off of any number of alien invasion predecessors.” (One of these predecessors was, of course, the original V.)

The first big difference between the old and new series is the addition of covert cells of Visitors that spent several years undermining Earth society prior to the arrival of the motherships. The original Visitors would’ve been unable to pull this off despite their human appearance; they had weirdly modulated voices and an aversion to bright light. I think that the change works, as it gives the series another faction to play with. There’s even a faction within that faction: Visitor infiltrators who have gone native.

Much has been written about the supposed anti-Obama coding of the new series, with its references to “hope,” “change” and “universal health care.” I didn’t find this to be pervasive. Science-fiction stories, especially contemporary tales which are intended to be social commentaries, inevitably draw from current culture. While you can find evidence to suggest the new¬†V is a right-wing paranoid fantasy, it’s also stated up front that the reason that the world is in such a mess is that the Visitors have been ginning up “unnecessary wars.” Sound like anyone we know?

And at the end of the day, V is a show in which the good guys are terrorists. There’s no getting around that. The original series was literally “dedicated to freedom fighters.”

My only complaint is that it felt as if the producers were trying to fit too much into an hour. The ’80s miniseries took two hours to reach more or less the same point in the narrative. While I didn’t mind the accelerated pacing–we have, after all, seen all this before–it did bother me the main characters weren’t given the chance to uncover the secrets of the Visitors on their own.

Three-quarters of the way into the episode, an Exposition Guy showed up and told them that about the aliens’ covert activities and their true reptilian nature. I know that it would have been impossible to surprise the audience in the manner of the original miniseries. Most articles about the new series gave away the “space lizards” thing. However, I think it undercut the moment in which the characters got their first glimpse of Visitor scales by giving them fair warning in advance.

V is off to a good start, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up. Production of the series was shut down for several weeks for retooling, and while that’s not all that unusual, it’s a bit worrisome. And then there’s the weird way that ABC is rolling it out, with the first four episodes in November sweeps and the remainder coming after the Winter Olympics in March.

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