Thursday, July 30, 2009

"V": A review of the Pilot Episode

A week ago, I was at Comic-Con in San Diego, CA. For a TV geek like me, this is pure paradise; it's a chance to wear your TV pride on your sleeve and indulge yourself in panels, memorabilia and screenings. I can't lie: I love TV. I love that the shows suck you in, make you care about characters and take you along for the ride.

At the moment, I'm a True Blood junkie. I recently subscribed to Direct-TV. Now I can actually blog about cable shows instead of just network TV. This is probably a good thing because one more blog post about Grey's Anatomy and I was about to shoot myself in the head. I also get a free three-month subscription to HBO. It couldn't come at a better time. I get to watch True Blood and at least part of Dexter.

I got to endulge my love for True Blood at Comic-Con, which you can read about in my regular blog. They had a panel made up of most of the major characters which was fantastic.

Yet, aside from my current and past favourite shows such as Dollhouse, Comic-Con is also a great place for getting to screen new shows. Most of the time, the shows fall into the Comic-Con demographic: They're usually sci-fi, shows with some kind of fantasy element like Buffy, Lost, Heroes, etc. or horror, like Dexter, for example.

This year there were a few screenings. I missed out on the Flashforward panel and screening, choosing, instead, to use the time to explore the Exhibition Hall and wait in line for the 24 panel. However, I did get to see the screening of the pilot episode of the V remake.

For those of you too young to remember, V was first a mini-series then a TV show in the early part of the 1980's. It was quite a sensation when it aired: A sci-fi show with a human element complete with a slight touch of shivery horror. Hey, I was only seven when it first aired and, let me tell you, people ripping their skin off to reveal lizard flesh combined with lizard-babies was pretty scary.

Now, they've remade the series for ABC television. It's going to air beginning in November. And, as an opinated TV blogger, I think it only my duty to give you my review of the pilot episode.

Overall, it was very entertaining. I like that ABC has chosen to go with a strong female lead, an FBI agent played by Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell. The show also features Scott Wolf as a slimy reporter clamouring to move up in the world along with Morena Baccarin (Firefly) as the leader of the "friendly" Visitors (hence the "V" of the title, standing for Visitors) and Morris Chestnut as a man just trying to keep his head down after living a somewhat dark past.

I won't post any spoilers because I don't like doing that. I could go back and recap the original series and compare it to this one but, to be honest, I don't remember specifics because I was so young. I do remember Robert Englund as friendly alien Willie and he was always my favourite part but as to plot, effects and overall review, I can't tell you much about the original show. Although if you IMDB it and look at the pictures, there was some BAD '80's hair going on there.

However, the updated version has no bad hair. In fact, it's a nice, shiny remake. The first episode focuses on the arrival of The Visitors and their claim that they are friendly aliens who are here to exchange their advanced technological knowledge for minerals we have on earth that they desperately need. Elizabeth Mitchell plays Erica Evans, an FBI agent who is investigating a case that eventually takes her deeper than she planned and reveals that the aliens are not quite as benign as they seem.

As I said, the show was quite entertaining. What worries me, however, are the cliche elements on which the show focuses. For example, Mitchell's character has a seventeen year old son who, as I said in my other blog, has the same eyebrow-acting ability as Zac Efron. To be honest, I'm already sick of the new wave of 'hearthrobs.' I know, I know, it shouldn't bother me because I'm too old to read Teenbeat and Bop but am I alone in thinking the new wave of male teenage hearthrobs really need to lay down their straightening-irons, stop wearing mascara and watch more Clint Eastwood films?

Anyway, I digress. Mitchell is a divorcee. She's bitter and her husband seems to be a good-for-nothing. She works for the FBI, cares about her son and works hard to support him. However, instead of appreciating the hours she works to support him, her son rebels against her, blaming her for the divorce and being angry at her for being a workaholic. Once, just ONCE, I'd love to see a teenage boy on TV admire his mother and support her as she works hard to support both of them. Unfortunately, V does not provide this. Instead, it provides an overplayed plotline in which Mitchell's character realizes the aliens are bad whereas her son has become enamoured with them. While we didn't get to see the ramifications of this opposing view of the Visitors in the pilot episode, I can only guess that somewhere down the line, the storyline will be concluded with the son having a near-brush-with-alien-death and his mother running to his aid and saving him. This will be concluded with a lot of hugging and a vow from the son to help his mother take down the evil Visitors.

I could be wrong. I'm not sure I will be though. I watch an awful lot of TV.

There are a couple of pleasant surprises with the pilot. Alan Tudyk, a favourite actor among the Comic-Con fans for his work on Firefly, Serenity and Dollhouse, pops up and adds a welcome burst of comfort to the episode. The set-up for the show is good; there are moments of surprise and darkness, especially surrounding the character played by Morris Chestnut. While some of his storyline is a little overdone with a doting fiancee who doesn't know about his secret past, he adds a layer of depth to the show. Also starring is Joel Gretsch who plays a priest who is not taken in by the seemingly benign arrival of the Visitors. His role is interesting in that his suspicions are, at first, unfounded but as the pilot episode progressed, he began to understand more and take action rather than relying on his faith to help him.

As a show, I think V has tremendous potential. Even though they weren't 100% complete, the special effects are 10 times better than they were in the original. The pilot episode was...interesting. I'll probably watch it, just to see what happens. But the hardest part about a remake is trying to make it original and one thing I did notice is that the remake gave a lot away in its pilot episode. Whereas the original show was a slow-burn in revealing the true appearance of the Visitors and didn't allow viewers to know who was a Visitor and who was human, the remake doesn't try to do anything slowly. In the pilot, we start with the arrival and end by knowing the Visitors are bad. We know who is/was a Visitor and how long they've actually been around.

I'm hoping the remake's technique of giving away so much is deliberate. I'm hoping that means that the following episodes will give us new information, will surprise us on a whole new level. While there are new viewers out there who are not familiar with the original show, I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the viewers in November will be older folk who saw the original and want to know why they're redoing it. As one of those viewers, I'll withhold judgement until I've seen a few episodes. In the meantime, I'd suggest you check it out. It's worth a watch; if nothing else, it's entertaining. And, also, Elizabeth Mitchell is pretty great in, if only her son would be revealed to be a Visitor. That might make up for his Zac-Efron-ness. Still, we'll see. Watch it and then let me know what you think. I'll be curious to know.