V – Sci-Fi Drama Review
Series Title: V
Starring: Elizabeth Mitchell, Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf, Morris Chestnut
Reviewed by: Saba Igbe
ABC’s V is a reboot of the 1983 two-part miniseries, about a race of technologically advanced race of aliens known as Visitors who come to Earth. The show chronicles how this event impacts the lives of FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), her rebellious son Tyler (Logan Huffman), businessman Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), and television reporter Chad Decker (Sott Wolf). Mitchell and Gretsch are the sci-fi veterans of the cast, having appeared in hit shows Lost and The 4400 respectively. As the creator of The 4400, executive producer Scott Peters is no stranger to the alien invasion sub-genre of sci-fi either. Even if the series veers from its original source material, V’s pilot borrows heavily from other science fiction films and television shows. Not that each work is expected to reinvent its own genre, but it is troublesome and tiring to watch the pilot unfold with glaring similarities to current shows on its own network.
The pilot begins with a formulaic set-up — each major character reacts to what feels like an earthquake. Really the tremors herald the Visitors’ arrival to Earth in an armada of spaceships drifting over the world’s major cities. We’ve seen this collision of intergalactic civilizations in The Twilight Zone’s To Serve Man episode and more recently, Torchwood: Children of Earth, and District 9. The Visitors or V’s look human, though their leader Anna, ( played by Morena Baccarin, another sci-fi veteran from Firefly and Stargate SG-1) with her delicate elfin beauty looks more like one of Star Trek’s Vulcans than an actual human. She speaks calmly in a soft, syrupy monotone, and she’s never without scores of her fellow Visitors who stand eerily silent behind her.
When reporter Chad Decker asks Anna why all the Vs are so uncharacteristically good-looking, it’s easy for us to ask why all the humans are so good-looking as well. Do even the priests have to look like movie stars? After their landing, the Visitors attempt to win over mankind by pledging to cure diseases and clean up the planet in exchange for water, or minerals- it’s hard to remember what they claim to want. It’s difficult to believe that the majority of mankind could be so quickly and easily duped by the aliens, with their “we are of peace, always” sloganeering. But V barrels on with another genre cliché: the small group of skeptical humans arming themselves as a scrappy resistance to the Visitors. It’s been done before, and better, with everything from the Terminator franchise to Dune to even Lost.
The pilot attempts to grapple with the pressing issues of modern time. In post 9/11 America, the pilot explores themes of power. Who can the citizens have faith in after such a wide-scale event? Their secretive government? God, or those who claim to represent Him? Where V could have examined philosophical and political issues about blind trust in institutions with subtlety, it instead beats us over the head with a sledgehammer. When it addresses organized religion’s role, Father Landry expresses his doubts with V’s clunky dialogue after an older priest calls the aliens “God’s creatures”. Landry retorts, “Rattlesnakes are God’s creatures, too, but that doesn’t mean they’re good to us.” It’s all rather eye-roll-inducing and it only gets worse. Anna and her fellow Visitors promise to rescue mankind from its weary years of unnecessary war and economic meltdowns. Then she smiles sincerely promising universal health care. It’s not surprising that this forced moment has caused some to allege that V parallels President Barack Obama’s candidacy, especially considering the pilot aired on November 2. Where the Bush era is presented as tumultuous, here comes the smiling stoic Visitors promising mankind hope, change, and free health care. There may be another way to interpret the laughable healthcare reference. Perhaps this moment isn’t a ludicrous insinuation that sufficient health care will destroy us all, but an insinuation that the world is searching for a savior who will bring us back from the brink. Perhaps the brink is so disastrous that only an alien can save us.
It feels as if all these questions are crammed in to create meaning, when in truth, V’s problem is that underneath it all, the show is pure black and white – us vs them. V is more concept-driven, than character-driven. It’s difficult to say if V will improve over time. If it stays on the path of its human resistance and not its tense alien infiltration, the show will end up being a pointless cliché. In a show without much magic, perhaps a good mystery is all one can hope for.