I admit it’s an odd thing for me to review the V pilot so long after ABC cancelled the series. On the one hand, nobody cares anymore. In fact, I’m not convinced too many people gave a hoot in the first place, given the sci-fi remake’s abysmal ratings. Moreover, the knowledge that the show would eventually switch creative teams halfway into its first season and go down the proverbial toilet turns every moment of promise into a perplexing occasion for proactive disappointment.
Consider the prospect of Agent Erica Evans’ (Elizabeth Mitchell) son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), losing his burgeoning identity to V propaganda. I love the way it inverts what we know happens to Arab youths roped in by Al-Qaeda, bringing home to American audiences the notion that the human loss is really two-sided. This is a bold statement for a television series to make in a post 9/11 world, but, spoiler alert, the tragedy ends up a blessing in disguise because, under the new show runners, the boy turns out a complete waste of oxygen.
I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the beginning, by which I mean the original V mini-series that aired in 1983. Creator Kenneth Johnson conceived the sci-fi drama as a political parable in which alien visitors offer to share their advanced technology, all the while plotting to subjugate the human race with fascist propaganda. The concept was broad to be certain, and its execution as subtle as a Justin Bieber song, but the show struck a chord with an audience that had grown up in the Cold War and started to doubt its rhetoric.
I’m surprised how little has changed in the last quarter of a century. Sure enough, the new Visitors come bearing gifts, such as the cure to over sixty-five diseases, but their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin), has got a sinister agenda, one involving a terrorist cell because that’s what Americans fear now. Otherwise, we’ve got the same basic premise, the same themes, and the same hope that viewers will recognise common trends in their current political environment. Take, for example, the throwaway reference to universal health care, a topic that generated quite a bit of controversy back in the day.
The major difference, I suppose, lies in the 2009 version referencing specific forms of media manipulation instead of abstract fascism. When Anna forces television anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) to choose between broadcasting biased news or no news at all, we’re meant to recognise a specific issue inherent to privatised journalism. By the same token, Erica’s astute concerns about blind devotion and Father Jack’s (Joel Gretsch) objections to his church refusing to distinguish between spiritual communion and fear-based idolatry criticise a culture in which voters pick and choose data to match their political identity instead of letting facts and reason inform their inclinations.
Granted, we get a sense that the main characters, who stem from all walks of life, function less as heroic individuals than as mouthpieces for their specific demographics, but that’s classic science fiction for you. Back in 2009, when every series pertained to be the new Lost, I rather welcomed the prospect of a genre show engaging its viewers not with intense pathos or obtuse mythology but with the pertinence of its social commentary. From that perspective, the V pilot shows incredible promise.
In the context of this retroactive review, though, the series’ wasted potential kind of breaks my heart, enough so that I find myself questioning the wisdom of my endeavour. On the other hand, I started reviewing the 2009 V series early on in its original run, and I’m a bit of a completist, the sort who’ll, for example, convince a friend to buy a copy of Pokémon Blue just to execute trades with my Red cartridge and fill the missing slots in my Pokédex. With that in mind, one down, three to go.