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V Review: Pilot

By  · Published on November 4th, 2009

Synopsis: An image of Anna, the leader of the V’s, is projected worldwide as she speaks about everyone joining together and no longer being divided by country or separated by fear. She wants us all to unite, and is counting on a very important component of human nature – devotion. At first considered a threat, the V’s quickly become a fascination and a link to things that lay just beyond our reach. When FBI Counter Terrorist Agent Erica Evans discovers, while investigating a terrorist cell, what lurks beneath the alarmingly human exterior of the Visitors, she realizes resisting the Visitors has never been more important.

Review: When the miniseries…es of the early 1980’s start getting remade, you can kind of understand the overall creative bankruptcy of American television. Don’t misunderstand me; I am fully cognizant of the exceptions. But one need only tabulate the number of series that are promoted ad nauseam as commercials with the fervor of carnival barking flood the airwaves for months prior to their releases. Then merely compare the breadth of those promotions against the laughably brief run of the shows themselves and the sad truth slowly surfaces. Not to be outdone by its own dismal batting average, ABC has decided to rehash the campy, classic sci-fi opus V. Despite all the consternation I felt, I was still highly anticipating the pilot episode.

My unflappable optimism was not rewarded. The pilot episode of V serves as a herald for everything that is wrong with modern television. The characters are so one dimensional that they are practically cardboard and there are lines of dialogue that will have you sighing angrily. Ultimately what it all boils down to is bland, lazy writing that fails to establish the world of the show and thus we have no reason to feel connected to anyone or anything that unfolds in front of us. For example the opening arrival scene, which completely rips off Independence Day despite the horridly contrived dialogue that exists solely to make excuses for it, is a complete failure. The writer makes no effort to give us a sense of the lives these people are leading prior to the arrival and then expects us to be affected by the upheaval of that world. It obliterates any semblance of tension while still obviously shooting for that Abrams sense of shock and surprise.

The writing is insultingly stupid for much of the episode. There are moments wherein I wonder whether the brains behind V assume we have no brains ourselves. What the hell am I babbling about you ask? What I am about to describe to you is literally a scene from the episode and I wish it weren’t because it sounds fabricated. The FBI agent main character, played with icy insincerity by Elizabeth Mitchell, is looking at graphs of terror cell chatter. She comments about how all the chatter stopped when the visitors arrived except for in one cell that spiked, and as she says this we see the graphs and the corresponding, descending lines. When we see the graph of the cell to which she is referring, the bar is obviously elevated and there is no doubt as to what it means. But that doesn’t stop a little text box from appearing on the screen displaying the words, “significant increase.” Yup, these writers think we are all dumb.

If you’ve never seen the original series, the premise is simple: aliens come to Earth promising peace and offering a better life, but their true motives are far more sinister. I need not remind anyone that since the airing of the original series, the political landscape of our planet has shifted immensely. Therefore the political undertones and implications of this story have evolved and are considerably more significant…or at least that is how they should have been handled. The problem, as I see it, is that by now we have had plenty of quality science-fiction competently and artfully tackle these ideas, not the least of which would be District 9, and V’s attempt feels completely uninspired. In fact, for the better part of fifty minutes this felt like an Asylum approach to District 9 (or the original V I suppose). It all feels terribly forced and specifically the religious angle is flat and a desperate reach for controversy.

But then the show turned a corner with mere moments remaining. Suddenly there was an iota of actual tension and at least one honest-to-goodness surprise. It continued to build on this turnabout right until the final credits rolled and I found myself unable to completely write off this miniseries. I have to admit that I am interested to see how this show evolves and what the next episodes may bring. The pilot is an overall failure, but the ending gives us a spark of hope that maybe things will turn around for V. The good news for V is that we no longer live in a time when pilots make or break a series. With the advent of Hulu and other legitimate downloadable content sites there are scores of people who come into a show at the end of the first season and, out of a formidable impatience, would rather run through an entire series all at once online than watch week to week. With a miniseries like this, that impatience will lead to the ability to digest the entire scope of the project in a day. If, as I predict, V makes staggering improvements as it continues, there will be an audience willing to forgive the monumental missteps and embrace the miniseries as a whole.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.