The original 1983 miniseries V is a tense, slow-building piece of science fiction that showed the creation of a fascist movement in the United States by the alien Visitors.
An allegory for the creation of the Nazi movement, the original V portrays humanity becoming divided by propaganda with some choosing to collaborate with the alien regime and others forming underground resistance cells. Rightly acknowledged as a classic of the genre, expectations have been high for this new “reimagining” that premiered on ABC this week.
On the surface much remains the same between remake and source. Both share the arrival of alien Visitors, promising technological salvation to humanity’s problems. Each explores how the media can be manipulated to spread propaganda, why some choose to collaborate and how resistance movements come into being.
Where this reimagining departs from the original concept is in aspects of its execution such as its lightning-quick pacing, topical political references and its blurring of the lines between the Humans and Visitors.
Smartly realizing that most viewers will already be aware that the Visitors are not all they claim to be, this pilot episode rips through a substantial amount of plot. Instead of trying to convince us that the aliens are genuine in their message of peace, the pilot is focused on establishing its large cast of characters and the resistance movement.
For the most part its pacing works in its favor, particularly during the opening sequence as the enormous Visitor ships appear over cities across the world and in the fight sequence at the episode’s end. It does mean however that several important questions go unanswered, such as how the Visitors were able to ingratiate themselves so quickly with the world’s political and spiritual leaders. Hopefully future episodes will explore this more thoroughly.
One significant change that this new series makes is to make its aliens appear more human. Gone are both the grating voice effects and the red jumpsuits that defined the 1983 Visitors, replaced with smart business suits and attractive faces. In addition to making them appear more seductive, these changes also mean that Visitors could masquerade as humans. In fact by the end of this first episode two humans have been unmasked as Visitors, which ought to elevate the sense of paranoia for the characters in episodes to come.
Other changes occur to adjust the series’ concept to the present day. While graffiti was seen as subversive in the 1980s, today it is used as a publicity tool. Accordingly here it is not the resistance that uses it as a weapon but rather the Visitors themselves, who encourage young people to tag buildings to show their support for their new alien overlords… I mean, saviors. In fact in this first episode the Visitors’ plan seems to be more viral advertising campaign than overt propaganda machine. It should be interesting to see how this develops in future episodes.
Likewise, where the original series had a respected journalist leaving their job to become a spokesperson for the Visitors, the new series shows us a news anchor throwing softball questions at the Visitors’ leader, Anna (the marvelous Morena Baccarin, Firefly), in order to get exclusive interviews and advance his career. The scene in which Anna explicitly tells Chad (Scott Wolf, Party of Five) that the price for the interview is that he ask her no difficult questions is one of the most effective in this first episode, quickly establishing both of their characters and a theme that is sure to be central to the series.
Although there are mentions of rioting in the streets and fear of the Visitors, besides the resistance meeting we actually see little of this on screen. In fact one of the more frustrating aspects of this pilot is how small and personal the events of this episode become.
I wanted to see short clips of debates on the television, politicians speaking out about the events and rallies both in favor of and against the Visitors in the streets. Instead the political and social implications of this enormous event seem ignored, the focus falling instead on the stories of its cast of characters.
Some of those stories left me a little cold, particularly the disagreement between FBI agent Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) and her son Tyler (Logan Huffman). While Huffman is fine in his role, we get little sense of what drives Tyler to believe in the Visitors’ message of peace. Instead the divide between mother and son feels artificial, constructed to set up conflict rather than emerging out of careful character development.
Fortunately the others seem much better thought out, several picking up as the episode nears its conclusion. Particularly notable is Ryan Nichol’s (Morris Chestnut, Not Easily Broken) path that takes him from buying an engagement ring and ignoring his cell phone to joining the resistance. For the first half of the episode his story seemed bland as he tried to ignore the events going on around him, yet towards the end his earlier actions are given some much needed context.
In time the series ought to be able to iron out some of the pacing and character issues present in this pilot. However, with only three episodes left before the series takes a three-month break though it will have little time to make an impression on viewers.
Fortunately based on this pilot episode the show appears to be on the right track, effectively setting up the series’ premise and establishing its themes. Provided future episodes can build on the achievements of this first episode, the series ought to have a bright future.
– Aidan Brack