V: Then and Now

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Cast_of_V_2009
The cast of V, 2009.

As soon as I heard that ABC was remaking V, the classic 1980s  miniseries/television series about extraterrestrials coming to Earth, my mind was flooded with long dormant memories of the original series. Growing up with an older brother who had a taste for the macabre, I was exposed to a lot of popular culture that was not entirely age-appropriate — Stephen King novels, Night of the Living Dead (1968, George Romero), The Dead Milkmen — basically anything with “dead” in the title. And so it should not be too surprising that I watched V, in its various televisual manifestations (miniseries, television series), at the tender age of 7 or 8.

night-of-the-living-dead
Even now, in my thirties, zombies are a key image in my worst nightmares.

I must have repressed most of my memories of the show because I could only conjure up flashes of images: a beautiful woman eating a rodent, a “Visitor” peeling back his faux human skin to reveal lizard skin below, and a super cheesy 80s era rendering of the inside of a “high tech” mothership. Lucky for me, the internet was more than happy to confirm these hazy visions.

norm-461376a5c47a4-V+(TV)+(1983)
Sometimes I wish computers did look like this...

The rodent eating:

This scene is truly laughable now but I’m pretty sure I choked on my Oreos when I watched this as a kid.

The skin-removing:

I think the special effects here are still pretty effective. They were so effective, in fact, that the series made me suspicious of everyone I knew. If anyone could be a V under their natural looking human skin, then what about Mom? Was she a V? What about Dad? I kept a close eye on the hamster cage just in case.

And something that I don’t remember at all but which is hilarious:

Start watching around the 2:10 mark.

Of course, the 2009 remake of V has far superior special effects. For example, when the mothership arrives in New York City a few minutes into the pilot episode  we first see its metal body reflected in the windows of a generic office building. It is a beautiful, chilling moment. Anything that arrives that way cannot be good.

Picture 3
The mothership approaches.

And of course the V’s lizard skins are far more … is realistic the word I’m looking for here? I’ll put it this way: although I figured out that Dale (Alan Tudyk) was an undercover V about 5 minutes after meeting his character, I still let out an involuntary shriek when Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell) pulled back his human skin during a violent showdown.

Picture 2
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

In terms of themes, the 2009 series has shifted away (at least in the first two episodes that have aired) from the overt Nazi allegory of the original (and no, I did not catch the references to Jewish resistance groups and Fascism and Hitler Youth when I was 7. I was in it for the rodent eating). While V is still playing with some of these themes — for example, the Peace Ambassadors are given blazers reminiscent of SS uniforms and the Vs make generous use of propaganda — there seems to be more of a push to see the Visitors as an allegory of modern terrorism. Only these terrorists have discovered that it is far easier to achieve your objectives if you study your targets, use their language and customs and offer them peace, all while plotting how to gobble them up.

Picture 4
Does this uniform make me look Fascist?

One interpretation I am not willing to swallow (excuse the pun) is that the new V is an allegory for the Obama administration and its politics (also here and on many, many other sites and blogs). The scene in which  Anna (Morena Baccarin), the beautiful, calm leader of the Vs, offers Earth a form of “universal health care,” is deftly intercut with a scene in which an underground resistance movement is slaughtered by a band of vicious Vs. Certainly such editing techniques make the promise of universal health care appear sinister, as a kind of bait and switch for more nefarious doings. But I read this much discussed moment less as a dig at the President and more as a topical reference that would resonate with audiences. In other words, given the way our health care debates have been going, universal health care only seems possible in the world of science fiction.

Picture 1
Beautiful Anna

And yes, Anna and her fellow Vs are attractive, charismatic, and popular with “the kids,” just like Obama was/is. But isn’t this the case with most successful leaders (both the good and the evil)? If Anna were ugly and devoid of personality then broadcasting her visage over 29 major cities would not be the best way to convince the world to cooperate with the Vs. I am sure that right wing bloggers and pundits will continue to see the program as further evidence that the Obama administration will bring about the destruction of humanity, but this will not keep me from watching the show.

Quick thoughts on the cast:

1. Throughout the pilot episode I kept asking my husband “Who is that guy?” every time Ryan Nichols appeared on screen. “I know that guy!” Then as the second episode started (we watched them back to back) and the name “Morris Chestnut” appeared on the screen. Since his acting debut in Boyz N the Hood (1991, John Singleton) Chestnut has appeared sporadically on the big (The Inkwell [1994, Matty Rich]) and small (Bones) screen, but I hope his leading role in V will ensure more steady work. The man looks fantastic!

boysnthehood_l
Ricky! Nooooooooooooooooooo!

2. I am really hoping that Rekha Sharma, who plays FBI agent Sarita Malik, turns out to be an undercover V since she was also one of the “final five” Cylons on Battlestar Galactica (another wonderful, contemporary remake of a somewhat cheesy sci fi program).

Battlestar-Galactica146
Two of the final five in Battlestar Galactica

3. Elizabeth Mitchell. You are truly kick ass. That is all.

300.ad.V.Mitchell.051909
"That's right. I survived that crazy island and now I'm here to save the world. With great hair."

So are you digging V? is it better than the original so far? And does ABC hate Obama?

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8 thoughts on “V: Then and Now

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amanda Ann Klein, Amanda Ann Klein. Amanda Ann Klein said: New Blog Post: "V: Then and Now" http://wp.me/pBUbf-cr #V […]

    Eldritch said:
    November 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    It might be better than the original miniseries, but it’s too early to tell. The two lead females have a lot of potential as does Alan Tudyk. However, the show really hasn’t developed characters to care about yet or any forward plot momentum yet. The first episode was badly rushed and even the second episode rushed some things while dragging out others. It felt slow moving.

    All that said, it wouldn’t be difficult for this remake to be better than the original. The Original was really, really bad. It was ineptly written and poorly acted. What acting triumphs did Marc Singer or Jane Badler go on to? Nada.

    It really wasn’t even science fiction. Yeah, I know. Aliens. Lizards. Hamsters. But that was just veneer. Almost immediately, the miniseries focused on the World War II French resistance theme. That’s not science fiction. That’s just routine. Wikipedia solved that mystery for me. The series was never intended to be science fiction. The producers wanted to make a “fascists take over the US government” show, but the network wanted something to imitate the “Star Wars” rage of the day. So to get the show on the air, the producers took a snip here and a stitch there, and voila, suddenly a science fiction show. Personally, I’m with Harlan Ellison who says a story isn’t science fiction unless the science fiction element is necessary to the story. “V” didn’t.

    I’ve been utterly amazed at all the praise I’ve seen posted about the original series. But I guess I’ve solved that mystery too. Sadly, I tend to forget how really, really old I am. These posts are coming, I believe, from people who saw the original series as children. Viewed through 7 or 10 year old eyes, it’s easier to be impressed with hamster eating.

    I saw the series as an adult. So maybe that’s why I remember it as a sad disappointment. It quickly degenerated from a possible science fiction series into inept storytelling. I think most people consider there to be two kinds of imaginative fiction, science fiction and fantasy. I see three genres. Science fiction, Fantasy, and something I call “Weird shit Happens.”

    A SF story is based on some kind of science, time travel, space ships, parallel dimensions, whatever. Fantasy is based on magic, wizards, spells, King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, whatever. And then there’s a third genre which is written by Hollywood hacks, who seem to believe that competent story telling, plot, character development, logic, consistency, are all unnecessary when replaced with special effects and weird things as long they’re strange, shocking, and off the wall. The weirder, the better.

    With this principal backing them up, they can insult their audience by throwing bizarre things at the screen. One of my personal favorites is the show that painted an actor in a cowboy costume silver and called him an alien from another planet. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

    The original “V” miniseries mostly tried to fight World War II Nazis in red costumes, but to keep up its facade of being a SF show, it desperately reduced itself to “weird shit happen.” Giving birth to twins, one pink, one green. Uh-huh. No DNA matching problems there. And at the end of the second miniseries when the little girl took over the flying saucer by ….. sparkling. Was that magic or just “weird stuff?”

    The new series? Well, it appears there have been V’s in human costume on Earth for several years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. And yet their presence is undetected by us earthlings. In several years, not one V has died in an auto accident and been autopsied by a pathologist. Not a single V has been injured enough for his naive human cronies to rush him to an emergency room to be examined by a doctor. Not one human woman has discovered some unexpected lizardy appendage in an intimate moment with her lover. No human suit has torn or worn out in an obvious way despite all these lizardy traitors and deserters in hiding. And I wonder, do they wear these human suits all the time? Do they never take them off? They never remove their contact lenses? That can’t be comfortable. And I’ve always wondered why all the V’s wear human suits on their own ships. Can’t they find a moment to relax anywhere?

    So, yeah, I’m concerned that the reimagined series is set up to fail. I’m not heartened by what I’ve seen so far. What we’ve seen so far *is* better, but it feels too much like FlashForward, which is rapidly suffering a failure of imagination and writing. “V” could go bad fast. It only has two more episodes before it goes on hiatus.

    Denny said:
    November 17, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I saw V and V: The Final Battle when I was around 12 and 13, so at the time, it was pretty crazy stuff to my ’80s pre-teen/early teen brain. Yes, now it looks silly. The rodent swallowing was freaky stuff to me back in the day, but as an adult watching the alien woman swallow the hamster, the only things that really come to mind are easy and tasteless jokes about how she was probably really popular in high school and college. Oh well. Some things should just stay in the past.

    Thanks, Amanda, for your insightful review. I’ve seen commercials for it and I’ve been trying to decide whether or not it was worth my time. The allegorical take on current politics is in fact an interesting theory, but ultimately I don’t feel that a political message is driving the show either. It comes more down to: a) ABC’s mad dash to find the next LOST, pronto; and b) an utter lack of original ideas. Sure, Battlestar Galactica turned out to be a super-brainy hit, but it’s also that type of thinking by the networks that got us a new Knight Rider. (Did anybody see it? Yeah, me neither.) I guess that, since it’s about to go on hiatus, I”ll have more time to deliberate whether I should give it a go.

    Eldritch said:
    November 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    My problem is that I’ll watch SF even if it’s bad. I wish I wouldn’t do that, but there it is. However, I think I’ve finally come to terms with “V.” I’ve realized that it’s written for children and teenagers. The things like the lizardy aliens wearing their human suits all the time actually work okay when viewed from that perspective. I’ve enjoyed a lot of children’s programming, Harry Potter, etc. In that context, the show’s not too bad.

    uberVU - social comments said:
    November 20, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by princesscowboy: New Blog Post: “V: Then and Now” http://wp.me/pBUbf-cr V miniseries…

    Anna said:
    December 6, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I was transfixed by the series as a kid, but I’d completely forgotten about the lizard tongue! The fingernails scratching off the skin to reveal the lizard skin underneath is permanently burned on my retinas.

    Sadly, I haven’t seen the series–I’ve had a hard time keeping up with my television series this fall (I know, I know–it’s so hard to be me….). Is it worth catching up on it online over break?

    Also, no idea how early the topical storylines were being introduced, but the series remake itself was a pre-Obama presidency decision, fwiw.

    princesscowboy responded:
    December 7, 2009 at 10:16 am

    @Eldritch Thanks for the review of the original series! You’re right–my memories of that series are very hazy as I was so young when it aired. And you bring up good questions about the Vs and their presence on Earth for so many years. It seems the show did try to address that though–as when Ryan is injured and has to go to a special V doctor. As for why they wear their skins ALL THE TIME? It looks like it’s pretty difficult to have them removed so my guess is that they just can’t slip in and out of them like a robe. In the final scene of episode 4 we travel across the universe to where all the V ships are and I was really hoping to have a peek inside (that wish was not granted)–I am assuming the Vs hanging out in those ships are au natural?

    @Anna Yes the new miniseries is definitely worth watching. It has its flaws but I have found it to be immensely entertaining. Really great cast, beautiful production values and a pretty compelling storyline. Plus there are only 4 of them. If you huirry you may be able to ctach all of them on Hulu.

    And I agree, the entire premise of the show would have been drafted pre-Obama. I do think that certain lines (like “universal health care” were tossed in there to be topical but otherwise, i don’t think any of this is purposeful.

    nfrankenhauser said:
    December 7, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I, too, am enjoying the remake immensely, especially the fact that they cut the cast of characters so dramatically. It’s been fun for me to try to pick out little details that hearken back to the original, and to try to figure out where things are headed based on what the original did. The relationship between Tyler and Lisa is a good example–I thought at first the writers were using them to do the whole human-alien baby thing, but (spoiler alert) they seem to be doing that with Ryan and his fiancee instead. It makes me wonder what the Vs want Tyler for after all.

    Just as a side note, the V fleet wasn’t across the universe, but out by Saturn. Much more threatening. I did always have the same curiosity as you about whether or not the Vs wear their human skins all the time, though.

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