Boyz N the Hood

V: Then and Now

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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.

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.

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

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!

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).

Two of the final five in Battlestar Galactica

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