Review: V 1.1 - "Pilot"

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Quoting an online friend, "It moved so fast I felt like I fell asleep and missed huge chunks of it. And then it was suddenly the season finale."

(Review contains spoilers, if you don't want to be spoiled, never saw the original series, don't expect the aliens to end up being villainous lizard people, please don't read on.)

Originally aired in 1983, V was a two part miniseries running on NBC. It was followed by a sequel mini series in 1984 and then a regular series that ran for 19 episodes until 1985. This reimaging (which has been the catch phrase of remakes since BS:G) focuses on the same principle plot points: Aliens from another world visit Earth under the guise of peace and cooperation. Their cover story is they have no home and need resources which are abundant on Earth and once they are replenished they will leave. We come to find out that they are not what they say and a resistance forms to drive the aliens away.

ABC hyped the coolness right off this show. When it first started putting out ads for it, it was exciting, but you couldn't go a single commercial break without seeing Scott Wolf say, "Excuse me?" When it finally aired, my first comment was, "Really? It's only an hour?" To which a friend responded, "Hey, you don't mess with my Dancing with the Stars."


I watched this on my DVR after waiting the traditional 20 minutes in respect for the TV gods and so I could fast forward through the commercials. However, between the DVR skipping and jumping to different spots (well done Suddenlink) and the kids needing to be fed and bathed, I had to watch it in starts and stops. At one point I had to let the recording finish and start over. My reaction, then, was unsettled. Whether or not I gave the show enough of a chance at this point is academic.

Without further ado, meet our story lines.

Erica Evans (Elizabeth "Lost's Juliet" Mitchell) is an FBI Agent (of course) who is investigating terrorist cells with her partner Dale Maddox (Alan "I make everything I'm in a little better" Tudyk.) Erica has a teenage son Tyler and he has a best friend Brandon. They're in a clinic after being in a fight.

Chad Decker (Scott "Party of Five" Wolf) is a news anchor who really wants to be a reporter but the network won't give him a shot. When the Visitors arrive, he makes a joke and suddenly becomes the news liaison to the Visitors.

Ryan Nichols (Morris "Yes this is my name" Chestnut) plays a banker or clerk (his abc.com bio says "business man") who is buying a ring and getting ready to propose to his girlfriend Valerie Holt (Lourdes "24" "NYPD Blue" Benedicto.) He's being hounded by an old acquaintance, Georgie Sutton, who wants him to come back to the operation. Ryan tells him to shove off.

Father Jack Landry (Joel "The 4400" Gretsch) and his mentor (I don't know how priest hierarchies work) Father Travis are arguing over the fact that no one comes into church any more.

And along come the visitors.

Anna (Morena "Firefly" Baccarin) is the leader of the Visitors. They arrive on their giant space crafts which they stole from the Independence Day aliens and hover over several dozen major metropolitan cities. Why is it aliens love to hover over major cities? Wouldn't you want to land somewhere or stay in orbit and send down smaller craft? It seems like a perfect way to scare people and waste a lot of fuel. Yes, they've perfected the technology behind gravity manipulation, but it still seems a bit showy.

Anna calms the people by saying, "We mean you no harm. We are of peace. Always." The once panicked humanity actually applauds the giant jumbotron screen in the sky. Anna gets Chad Decker to do an interview but doesn't want any negative questions. The Visitors were once like humans in their emotions but have since learned to control it and realize that negative emotions are wasteful.

Meanwhile, Agents Evans and Maddox are investigating a terrorist cell. They noticed a certain group's activity increased after the Visitors arrived, rather than decreased like all the others. They go to track some leads but are one step behind at each turn. Finally a clue leads them to a resistance meeting led by Georgie Sutton. Erica and Father Jack are both there and suddenly a floating shrapnel bomb explodes and kills several people. The hideout is then raided by people wielding bladed weapons. They start tearing down resistance members. Erica is attacked by her partner and when she hits him with a metal bar, she sees reptile skin under his human skin.

Erica's son Tyler is smitten with a recruiting hottie named Lisa (Laura "Smallville" Vendervoort) and forges his mom's signature so he can be part of the Visitor Youth something or other. As his mom and Father Jack are escaping with their lives, he's accepting a toast at the first meeting of the Visitor Community Awareness shindig.

Oh, also? Ryan is a visitor and helps Georgie escape. He's a traitor. The visitors have been here for decades. This "arrival" is just the last phase of their plan to take over the world.

I have to go back to the quote at the beginning of this post. I rewound several parts of this first episode because I missed something truly integral to the rest of the show. I mean, if you blinked you missed the whole reason Agents Evans and Maddox were investigating an underground storage area. You missed Georgie's speech about who the Visitors really were. You missed the recruitment pitch by Lisa and the interview post mortem by Chad and Anna's first in command Marcus. It was a breakneck pace and at the same time it moved too fast for me to appreciate what was going on.

The comparison I have to V is to the recent film District 9 in which an alien race becomes stranded over South Africa and are forced to leave their ship and live on Earth in a refugee camp. At the beginning of the movie, we are told the entire back story in news clippings and interviews and it takes about 15 minutes. Comparatively, in Independence Day the entire invasion takes place over just a couple days but also spans the full movie until they are fought off right at the end. V took this unsure middle ground where the ships show up in the first couple minutes, but then we spend the rest of the time in an unsure time machine. The only part that gave any indication of how much time had past was half way through when we see the caption "Three Weeks Later" but by that time I was already confused as it seemed much more time had past or none at all.

This treatment could have been given a better chance had it run two hours. I'm not saying that because I think Dancing With The Stars is a waste of my time, but because it was hard keeping up with everyone. You have 40 minutes to introduce four different plots, 8 major and several minor characters AND an alien invasion, something's going to get lost. And in this case it was the identification I had with anyone. What also suffered was the writing. Because we only get a few short moments with each character, their lines have to be jam packed with emotion, meaning and clues. We don't get the film approach to dialog that can be drawn out to explore the full range of an actor's abilities; we get sound bites that are awkward and stiff. Even Mitchell, who is great in Lost had some lines that were just flat. Alan Tudyk was only mildly interesting. The rest of the cast was fairly boring.

I will make an exception for Georgie, played by David Richmond-Peck. He had the typical task of being the Resistance leader and in doing so had to deliver conspiracy and paranoia in a limited space, but I feel he did a bang up job. His revulsion but ultimate need to remain close to Ryan was painted skillfully on his face and the indoctrination scene with Erica could not have been handled better.

There was a lot that didn't make sense in the show. Early on when the alien ship first arrived, the army was already in place to section people off in some random order, but right out in the middle of the streets of New York. There was no reason given and there was no obvious need to do so. Erica and Tyler were a family without a husband and dad and yet despite the arrival of another life form, they can't work out their mistrust. Also, despite the arrival of aliens, Agent Evans continues to work on terrorist threats. Little things like that make me pull my hair out. I don't know about you, but if an alien ship started floating over Austin and Morena Baccarin came out, I think I might quit my job and go wait around by that ship.

This series is going to be set up as a constant fight between the Resistance and the Visitors. It can't go forever and one side will have to win. But they crammed the entire fight into one episode and now instead of any meaningful discovery, all we have left is the fight and I'm not sure I can deal with 17 episodes of rebellion.

Three out of five Anna heads.

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