Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"V" May Be A Slap At Hopeychange After All

I was a big fan of the original TV Miniseries "V." It was often over the top. The characters were regularly quite wooden. The special effects were not half bad for the era. But most of all, it had a message. There is such a thing as good and evil, and those who promise you everything if you just let them do their jobs are usually lying and have much more sinister motives. The Nazi theme was omnipresent.

So when viewing the new TV series of the same name, I rather expected the usual slickening up of the original, with the plot filled with moral equivalencies, unclear lines of division between the good guys and the bad guys, replacement of the original limited special effects with state-of-the-art CGI, and some version of the current mainstream thinking of "can't we all just get along?" And like most people looking for the bad in something, I found it, to the exclusion of what I've come to see as the good in the show.

First of all, the clear hero in the original was a rough and tumble TV news photograper who went into harm's way to get a story. The new show has no such clear character. In fact, it appears that the key character may very well be a priest who seems to have some very new agey ideas along with doubts about his faith. When the first arrival of the alien spaceships occurs, it causes earthquake-like vibrations in his church, and just in the nick of time he rescues a parishioner in a wheelchair from a large crucifix which has shaken loose from its moorings. Sure enough, another example of Jesus trying to crush the oppressed.

In the original, there were plenty of black characters. In the new series, there is an unusually large number of black-white couples. Nothing wrong with that, but it was a little too prominent and numerically unlikely to have fit smoothly into the plotline. The leader and spokesperson for the aliens was transformed into a woman (check, feminists). The propagandizing of the populace into enthusiastic support for the aliens (by now dubbed the Visitors--hence, "V") occurred with astounding rapidity, where in the original it evolved logically over several episodes. The rebels opposing the Visitors likewise formed seemingly overnight. That part was explained by using the same plot device used in the Tom Cruise slice-up of the original "War of the Worlds." The original core of the resistance movement had formed considerably earlier. You see, the Visitors had been among us for years, and this small cadre had figured out that they were setting up the world for the arrival of the main body.

Fortunately, I had recorded the original episode, and after a couple of days had passed I realized that I may have made a hasty judgment of "typical politically-correct nonsense." So I re-watched the opener, and though my technical objections don't entirely go away, I saw a completely different tone to the plot from what I thought I had seen the first time.

I still see the priest as a rather weak character, but I now see that his faith may be firmed up by his experiences in working with the resistance. The replacement of the leader with a female character may be to throw the current powers that be in Washington off the track about where this show is going. The CGI is not a substitute for plot development, but rather an improved version of the old special effects.

The rush to establish in one episode all the major characters and conflicts is a failing. It should have been done over several of the initial episodes. But I also understand that by today's breakneck standards, any show that isn't making good Nielsen numbers in the first three weeks is probably headed for cancellation. The producers may simply have decided they didn't have the luxury of time to establish the show's themes.

A new character who will be one of the leaders has no genuine parallel in the original. It is a female FBI agent who quickly has to change her investigation of tracking down terrorists into a jaundiced look into the arrival of the Visitors (worst of all, her own teenage son has been mesmerized by the V movement). The bold photographer and gutsy fellow journalists who appeared in the original have been replaced by a weak-sister example of mainstream media reporters of today. It turns out to be a good choice. When the beautiful leader of the Visitors agrees to go on worldwide television for an interview, this guy gets to do it. When she announces that the Visitors have come to ask for a few of our abundant natural resources which are lacking on their planet, she promises in return to deliver their advanced medical and technological advances. The reporter weakly asks: "Do you mean 'universal health care?'" "Yes," she replies, "I believe that is what you would call it."

The leader also tells the talking-head that "we can't be seen in a negative light." It was not a request. And the reporter dutifully complied. When later asked about the surprising growth of the youth organizations supporting the Visitors without question, the leader says: "Embracing change is never easy." Therefore she needs the young and uninformed as her shock troops.

One youngster early in the show says "This is just like the movie 'Independence Day.'" It is basically an inside joke. It's nothing like "Independence Day," in which an initial attempt to welcome the aliens turns into horrible destruction and the people of earth quickly realize there is a powerful enemy prepared to destroy them arriving on earth. The show has some sad similarities to the new "Battlestar Galactica" (the aliens have infiltrated us and look just like us, and the aforementioned "they've been here for years" from the new "War of the Worlds").

The house organ of the Democratic Party, "The New Republic" got it right away. Their review makes it very clear that they saw what I failed to see on my first viewing. "This is not just a right-wing worldview, but the worldview of the Tea Party movement. It's grating that a potentially interesting concept was hijacked by right-wing political paranoia." I guess they just don't like seeing the shoe on the other foot. Since the show clearly is drawing parallels with the empty and dangerous policies of the Obama administration, the show couldn't merely be a different view of the world. It had to be an example of right-wing paranoia. A similar review appeared in the "New York Times."

It's just unfair that instead of the Nazi Bush administration, this show more subtly points at the statist-socialist Obama administration. Oddly, the "Hollywood Reporter," normally the Democratic stooge in Hollywood, noted the Obama parallels, then gave the show a very good review indeed. I'm picturing the phone lines at the White House burning up making calls to everybody connected with the series to remind them that "we can't be seen in a negative light." Like the leader's statement, it won't be a request.

The show got excellent ratings on its initial broadcast. I'm not sure that can last. Most of those in charge of the series have already been sent off to other projects (somewhere in Siberia, I expect). The show runs on Tuesday nights on ABC. As the first network to take up semi-permanent residence in the White House, it is unlikely the network will allow the show to continue on its present course. After all, what's genuine opposition political opinion compared to immediate access to the Leader?

If the show survives at all, I suspect it will turn into a gutless laser pistols and moral equivalency piece of sci fi junk quickly. Only time will tell. But I recommend that while it still exists in its current form, you sci fi and administration critics join me in watching the show before it goes south.

25 comments:

Tam said...

I am happy to watch it if for no other reason than to give a show with anti-totalitarianism messages an audience. As long as it provides subtle (or not) and intentional (or not) political views opposing a "leader" taking over public lives in the name of hope and change, I'm in.

ScottDS said...

I believe the new showrunner in charge worked on Chuck, which has always been a right-friendly show.

As for V, I'll probably Netflix it all later - given my current situation, I don't want to get too attached to any new TV shows right now.

A couple quick things:

"In the new series, there is an unusually large number of black-white couples. Nothing wrong with that, but it was a little too prominent and numerically unlikely to have fit smoothly into the plotline."

I agree there is nothing wrong with that but I guess they can get too PC when people start questioning the odds of so many interracial couples. (Of course, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar... maybe there was no mention of race in the script and the filmmakers simply hired the best actors for the job.)

"The leader and spokesperson for the aliens was transformed into a woman (check, feminists)."

I had some trouble with feminism in Andrew's Scooby Doo thread but, why is this an example of it?

Pardon my ignorance of these matters - I'm just curious. :-)

LawHawkSF said...

Tam: I think you'll enjoy it. I hope they'll slow down and develop their plots a little better. They could become very convoluted and confusing if they keep introducing new characters and new twists without fleshing out the characters first.

JG said...

I watched V last week and loved it. I agree the pacing was too fast - they crammed half a season into one episode. But I think they have built a good foundation for a decent series or miniseries. Plus, it's got good actors, even if they are working within a cheesy script.

I don't really agree with your assessment of the priest. What's New Age-y about thinking for yourself? "A rattlesnake is one of God's creatures" was one of my favorite lines. (It reminds me of the secular argument against abortion - "it's a living thing." Yeah, so is a weed.) That's all he really did - ask questions. Maybe it's because I'm not Catholic, but we Protestants have made a fine tradition of not just accepting what the higher-ups have to say if it goes against common sense. That, to me, is not a sign of weakness, but of intellectual honesty and moral integrity.

And Jesus trying to crush the oppressed? Seriously? That wasn't the image I believe they were going for - it was that the Vs were going to attempt to become the new saviors and take the place of the real One.

Plus, the lines of good and bad seemed very clearly drawn to me - the Vs are bad, the resistance is good, and everyone else is caught in the middle, not in a case of moral relativism, but because they have yet to choose a side or are being deceived.

Give it the chance to stand on its own two feet. This isn't the old V, and that's not a bad thing.

LawHawkSF said...

ScottDS: Chuck had Adam Baldwin as his backup agent. That alone made it worth watching.

Given that I've seen enough of the story so far, I think that may very well be why they have mixed couples. So far, the couples have largely been not much more than props, but the black people in the original played important parts, and I was simply commenting that I hope they are not being used merely as "statements." I'm guessing they're not, and will fold into the plots eventually.

When a female character is shown as a lead in an original series, nobody is going to give it a second thought. But when a lead female character in a remake replaces a lead male character in the original, there needs to be a reason other than "I am woman, hear me roar." I personally thought turning Starbuck into a woman in the remake of "Battlestar Galatica" was exactly that kind of change.

On the other hand in "V," the change not only made sense, it was a great move. The original leader ("John") was a smarmy, grinning, speechifying man with a slickly-oiled politician's aura. In the new series, the leader is beautiful, charming, soft-spoken, clear-eyed and never seems threatening. And of course, underneath, she's planning the end of humankind. She turned out to be the perfect misdirection play. And on top of that, if she had been a man making those vapid and meaningless statements about hope and change, the parallel would probably have been too obvious.

Di said...

I plan on watching it, just to give the show some numbers. Do you think ABC would listen more to the White House saying "don't do anything that puts us in a critical light" or to really good ratings? Which is more important to a network? I don't know (I think they like ratings) but I will do my part to drive up the number of viewers.

LawHawkSF said...

JG: You're right on all points, and that was exactly my point. We've been exposed to so much left wing propaganda posing as dramas, that many of us start reading those messages into shows when they really aren't there. It took about two days for that to roll around in my head before I gave it a second look. That time I saw what you saw. I had even written a very negative e-mail to Andrew about the show before I re-viewed it. The article is intended as both a mea culpa and a warning about becoming too cynical.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

It doesn't have the same feel of the original. This one has a more omnipresent feeling to it. It doesn't have a well-defined underground leader like the original. I don't expect it to fail because of ratings. I expect it to fail because of specious complaints.

LawHawkSF said...

Di: Just two or three months ago I would have said ABC would sacrifice ratings for a chance to bask in the glow of the messiah. Today, I'm not so sure. The catch is, the plotline needs to stay on course if it's going to keep gaining viewers, and I'm not sure that any of the networks realize that. Change the plot, and it's just another CGI effects bonanza with no heart. Now that they're beginning to realize that their god has feet of clay, the result may be different. We can only "hope."

JG said...

Okay, I'm sorry, I missed that. :) I guess I was pre-conditioned from all the hype on BH, starting back in the summer. But I really enjoyed last week's episode and I am looking forward to tonight.

LawHawkSF said...

Joel: The muddied plot from trying to cram too much into one episode could be the show's eventual downfall. But if they are planning to flesh out the characters so that clear leader(s) emerge, and if it's not too late, the series can very well survive and flourish. Remember that even in the original series, the male photographer was the "action hero" leader of the resitance, but the real leader was a woman, so one clear leader isn't the only answer.

LawHawkSF said...

JG: That makes perfect sense. I found the reviews on BH a little over the top originally. I felt the reviewers were doing the opposite from what I was doing. They were looking for positive messages at all costs, while I was looking for negative messages without any good reason. As it turns out, they were right, I was wrong.

StanH said...

Got the DVR set, and am going to keep watching. I agree with you the events are happening fast, they need to slow the pace and develop the characters. We’ll see!

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: Me too. I've watched the original miniseries several times (I think I know too many of the lines by heart). Remember, the original was dedicated to "freedom fighters everywhere." Today, I'd expect that message to mean something quite different. I had viewed it again purposely just to prepare myself for the new series, and I think that may be why I was so negative at first. Of course the original had a beginning, middle and end, but was so popular that they built a regular series on it. The series was formulaic, and had little of the original message left in it. It was like cowboys and Indians, only with lizardlike aliens. I'm hoping the new series doesn't suffer the same fate.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I haven't seen V, so I can't comment on the political correctness in this (or not in this), but generally, political correctness involves the insertion of some idea for reasons unrelated to the plot, but rather for the purposes of promoting an agenda, e.g. Robert Redford making a gratuitous statement accusing George H.W. Bush of causing homelessness in a spy movie.

Another example is the fact that Hollywood almost never lets black actors play criminals (and if they do, they are part of an inter-racial gang. . . a rainbow of thugdom that always includes whites). The reason is that it is politically incorrect to suggest that blacks commit crimes.

By the same token, show me a decent, rich white businessman -- other than one who learns to become good by accepting politically correct thinking. Or show me gays who are anything other than happy, normal, monogamous couples.

In the Scooby Doo issue, the political correctness derived from the reshaping of her character solely for the purpose of sending messages propagated by the feminist lobby: (1) girls must strive to be superior to males, (2) girls must strive to be independent and offers to help females are inherently sexist and should be seen as insulting. (Along with other PC ideas.)

On Starbuck, I don't think it was political correctness at all. Moore has admitted that it was a (cynical) attempt to generate controversy.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I knew about the "stirring up controversy" statement, and though I don't necessarily take it as face value, it may very well be true. But two things can be true at the same time. It was "conroversial" and it was "politically-correct." And of course it changed the entire dynamic between Apollo and Starbuck, with Starbuck (usually) coming out on top. That's a necessity in political correctness, because the woman must always come out on top. On the other hand, if the original Starbuck and Apollo were gay, then this whole comment is wrong. LOL

Writer X said...

LawHawk, not sure if you saw all the old "V" shows from the 80's when they played it (on SyFy, I think) about a week prior to the new "V." I vaguely remember it. Big hair, campy, it was like DALLAS but with space aliens. Anyway, when I watched the old show, I was very much aware it was a campy, albeit semi-entertaining, show. Not so with the new version.

When I watched the new "V" last week, I was immediately struck by the parallels to today and was hooked right away. The piece with the mindless journalist couldn't have been clearer, along with all the other parts you mentioned. I'm still shocked it's even on the air. If they stay the course, it will continue to pull in the ratings. But if they try to grey the issues, people will stop tuning in.

I'm intrigued!

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: You probably wrote your comment before I posted my reply to StanH. We're on the same track, except that I like your description of the series as "Dallas, only with space aliens" better than mine. The original miniseries and the spinoff series were really two quite different animals. As I mentioned to StanH, the series lost the heart and soul of the miniseries and turned it into a special effects shoot-'em-up. The aliens became mere "bad guys" instead of threats to everything that makes humans worthwhile. And that miracle-performing hybrid child--yoiks!

Writer X said...

LawHawk, how could I have forgotten the alien demon child?! That still gives me the creeps. No doubt there will be cross-over relationships in this new series. I have a feeling they may try to humanize the aliens more in this new version.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: I never did figure out how the northern rana pipiens (leopard frog) and the southern rana pipiens cannot breed with each other, even though they're the same species, but humans and alien lizards can. I know I studied genetics at Cal in the 60s (when DNA was first being viewed physically), so maybe I'm just not up on alien/human genetics. Maybe it's just something to do with the Civil War.

I suspect you're right about cross-breeding in the new series, I just wonder how they plan on dealing with it.

Tennessee Jed said...

Good post, Hawk. I missed most of the original "V" probably because it may have been pre-VCR and I was working way to hard, back then. I do remember a great image of a "hot" female visitor who inadvertently lets her lizard tongue tumble out of her mouth.

I used my DVR this time. Unfortunately, I have theater lighting and a recliner which means as a full fledged geezer, I can dose off even when viewing good material. And, as you point out, they did cram a little too much into the pilot which often makes first episodes not the best. Nevertheless, any show today that is half way entertaining AND is not a p.c. liberal soapbox is worthy of support. Since this runs opposite N.C.I.S., I have it set for record series.

I don't know if anybody read it, but I think it was Jeffrey Jenna over at Big Hollywood that had an interesting article about the showrunner getting taken off the project. Like most, I have guarded hopes for this show, although most of what I like seems to get cancelled. I think it has something to do with the fact that even though we boomers actually watch the most television and have lots of disposable income, advertisers demand the youth audience so they can hopefully capture "lifetime" customers early on. There may be some truth to that since I quit on American made cars in the late 70's and have gone Japanese and German ever since.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: I have to do the same thing. I wish they wouldn't put good mainstream message shows up against each other. I'll be doing the reverse, though. I'll record "NCIS," and watch "V." Largely because I know that "NCIS" is pretty consistent, where with "V," I'm anxious to see what's coming next.

patti said...

we watched it and had fun yelling at the characters fooled by dem lizards. "Don't go into the (figurative) basement! they'z gonna (literally) kill you!!!) oh the hilarity laughing at the parallels...

LawHawkSF said...

Patti: I'm hoping to see the new version of the aliens eating live rats. It was really outrageously cool in the original. I wonder how they'll do it now. At least their attitude so far hasn't indicated they'll give any consideration to PETA's tender sensibilities.

LawHawkSF said...

UPDATE: Tonight's second episode didn't disappoint. The priest is beginning to get it, and starting to realize he must fight the evil. The FBI agent has tied up with him, and by the end of the episode, it looks like they'll be working jointly (although the priest did make a mistake in trusting some of the wrong people, though the agent had warned him).

The smarmy news anchor appeared to be feeling guilty about being so subservient to the Leader, that he decided to conduct an interview with opposing sides on the issue. But afterwards, it looks like he wasn't developing ethics, but rather a means to make himself more important to the Visitors than as a mere tool. Other characters are starting to develop personas, and the plot is becoming clearer.

Despite her pleas, the FBI agent's teenage son is secretly participating in Visitor activities. It seems to be a message about youthful inexperienced people making decisions for all the wrong reasons (in this case, a very pretty Visitor).

They now have a list of everyone whose reports to the authorities involved citizen reports of what most of them termed "subversive" activity. It was stolen from the Visitors, who now are shown to have access to nearly every civilian police agency, as well as all general communications. That will probably be expanded on in the next few episodes. So far, so good.

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