The Third International after Lenin

Monday, April 19, 2010

Television: A Very Public Sociologist reviews V

V: The New Series

As long time readers know I'm a bit partial to the classic 80s sci-fi show, V. When I heard a remake was in the offing I was cock-a-hoop, and after what seemed like an age the re-imagined V premiered on UK television last night.

Those acquainted with the original can more or less guess the story, but if you're not there are spoilers coming. One day dozens of vast spacecraft move into position above the world's major cities. Contact is established (by means of vast screens on the ships' undersides) and the aliens, who look like humans, promise peace and advanced technology in return for raw materials. The Visitors - or Vs as they like to call themselves - are friendly almost to the point of insincerity. In a matter of weeks they've opened health care centres across the world offering universal coverage at the point of need (that this is considered a science fictional achievement says all you need to know about the poverty of American politics), taken humans on guided tours of their ships, recruited the young to their youth "ambassador" programme, and are busy lobbying governments for diplomatic recognition.

But all is not as it seems. FBI counter-terrorist agent Erica Evans (
Elizabeth Mitchell) notices that while monitored terrorist group internet chatter drops away when the aliens turn up, one sleeper cell activates and goes into overdrive. Meanwhile Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a priest used to preaching to empty pews finds his church packed with people turning to religion in the wake of the aliens' arrival. He is suspicious of the spin, and finds his doubts confirmed when a dying paritioner sends him to an underground resistance meeting. Other main characters on the human side include Erica's son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who becomes obsessed with the Vs and is rapidly inducted into their youth movement; ambitious journalist Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) who uses the arrival to boost his career; and Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), a resistance fighter with a murky past. Facing them is Diana stand-in, Anna (Morena Baccarin - pictured) and youth movement leader Lisa (Laura Vandervoort).

The original series was pretty unsophisticated fare, though in many ways it was light years ahead of its contemporaries when it came to the depiction of the aliens. Yes, underneath the peel-off skin they were guinea pig chomping reptiles, but as characters they were as conflicted and complicated as the humans. There was none of the all-Klingons-are-up-for-a-scrap nonsense you would find in
Star Trek. However, the original series was let down by daft plots and recycled special effects (especially in the unwise and unlamented TV series). But in the context of the cold war, a show about jack booted alien reptiles preaching peace and friendship plugged nicely into anti-Soviet paranoia (allow me this aside, despite this you could make the argument that the show was Guevarist in inspiration - i.e. elite armed resistance groups face off against the invaders while a stupefied and cowed population looks on).

But the new series has junked some of the silliness of the original. Please note, I did say *some*. For starters, the producers have ratcheted up the paranoia and intrigue 21st century audiences expect from their sci-fi. It turns out the Vs have been living among us for many years, infiltrating governments, militaries, and religious establishments and destabilising things to make the ground more fertile for the moment of their arrival. As Father Jack quips in the pilot, "they're arming themselves with the most powerful weapon we can give them: our devotion" (it also raises the possibility that David Icke might have a point after all). So who can the heroes trust when anyone could be a V? This is complicated by the welcome inclusion of fifth columnists - undercover Vs who've turned against the nefarious plans of their government - who are also active in the resistance.

There's also less of a military aspect to the aliens. In the original series Diana and friends were transparently a fascistic military dictatorship with Nazi overtones, what with all the gun-toting lizard troopers milling about. But in the new series, Anna and co. have been swotting up on their Gramsci to affect a peaceful take over. It seems they leave the muscle to V equivalents of special forces.

And so, going on the first two episodes the new
V is shaping up to be an entertaining series. As long as it keeps sufficient distance from the original and Kenneth Johnson's shockingly bad V: The Second Generation it should turn out fine. But be warned, going by some spoilers I've accidentally read, it looks like we're in for a scientifically illiterate repeat of this.

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