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‘V’ mainly victorious: ABC’s modern take on a classic mini-series

By Sean Fabery

Section: Arts

November 6, 2009

In recent years, television has known no shortage of serialized sci-fi dramas—from “Battlestar Galactica” to “Lost,” networks have tried time and time again to capitalize on the trend, not always succeeding (remember “Surface” or “Invasion?”). ABC has added yet another entrant to the genre with Tuesday’s debut of “V,” a remake (“reimagining” in television parlance) of the classic 1983 miniseries.

“V” stands for Visitor—the term for a race of aliens whose bevy of spaceships hover over the world’s major cities as the first episode begins. The Vs appear completely human and apparently speak every language. Their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin), calmly assures Earth that her race comes in peace, declaring that they “will leave [humans] better than [they] found [them].” The Vs soon gain a kind of cult of personality among humans, partially a result of their ability to cure a plethora of human diseases.

However, all is not as it appears. FBI Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) soon discovers that the Visitors are actually reptilian creatures with nefarious plans in mind—uh oh. Along with Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a priest, and Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), a Visitor intent on helping humanity, Erica forms a resistance group against the Vs—even as her own son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), is recruited by them.

To be honest, there’s not much that can be called new or original in “V”—a fact that should perhaps be unsurprising considering that it is, after all, a remake. Its basic plot has been done time and time again—aliens arrive on Earth, claim they want to do good, and then—gasp!—turn out to be lying… and evil… and possibly intent on eating everyone.

The opening visuals, in which the Visitors’ spaceships hover menacingly over city after city, has been done before in films ranging from “Independence Day” to this year’s “District 9.” The show is, however, conscious of its debts, cheekily acknowledging them in a scene in which one onlooker compares the alien arrival to “Independence Day,” while another person chimes in claiming that that particular film was a “rip-off of any number of alien invasion” films—just like “V.”

“V” also lacks the complexity of shows like “Lost.” With the exception of the Visitor who switches sides, there’s an “absolute good versus absolute evil” mentality present. This is not to say that the series does not make attempts to add depth to its plot. The original mini-series served as an allegory for the rise of Nazism, and elements of this have been retained—Tyler, for instance, is recruited into a Visitor ambassador program designed to spread the Vs’ message, echoing the practices of the Hitler Youth.

“V” has tried to update this allegory, however, by choosing to instead focus on issues of trust in a post-9/11 society. Erica, a counter-terrorism agent, initially suspects the human resistance movement of being a terrorist sleeper cell. It’s also not immediately clear how to differentiate a human from a Visitor in disguise, casting suspicion on virtually everyone.

The main cast of “V” is uniformly strong. Elizabeth Mitchell, best known for playing Juliet on “Lost”, proves to be the standout as Erica, creating yet another complex portrayal of a strong, independent woman. Mitchell has strong chemistry with Logan Huffman, who portrays her V-enthusiast son. Morena Baccarin lends Anna an eerie, antiseptic quality that repels even as it attracts. Scott Wolf contributes a strong performance as an unscrupulous journalist who secures an interview with Anna, after agreeing not to ask her any tough questions. Finally, Morris Chestnut and Joel Gretsch, as the other prominent figures in the resistance, also give charismatic performances — though the first episode gives their characters little screen time.

In addition to its cast, the show’s plot is its other strength. It may be derivative, but it’s certainly engaging and suspenseful. Unlike typical first episodes, the “V” premiere was not bogged down in exposition, allowing it to immediately submerge you in the action. At the same time, the amount of action presented in the first episode alone could pose a problem in the future—hopefully the show won’t cycle through its ideas too quickly and will instead take the time to delve into them more deeply.

“V” certainly garners a recommendation based on its first episode alone, though viewers shouldn’t expect a show steeped in symbolism and its own mythology a la “Lost”—at least not yet. Considering the sizable audience its debut netted—over 14.3 million viewers—the series should stick around for a while. It will hopefully cash in on the promise its cast and narrative verve have so far presented.

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