Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"V" Premiere

I’ve been spoiled by Battlestar Galactica. It seems the re-imagining of an old media property is not always head and shoulders better than the original. Tuesday night’s premiere of the new V certainly has a more contemporary aesthetic, and may prove to be a worthwhile show, but lost something in the translation.

Part of the appeal of the original is the slowness with which the population turned against the visitors, and the significant concessions of freedom that humanity made before many had noticed a problem. In the new V, the audience hears about protests against the visitors before we’re shown anything the visitors have done to harm the population, and we have a ready-made resistance group fighting a war already in progress. The honeymoon is over before it has begun.

Similarly, the new visitors have jumped the gun on how overtly they manipulate their media portrayal. Chad Decker, the visitors’ go-to media guy in the current series, is acutely aware that he is being played. He doesn’t yet know how badly, but he knows. In the original, reporter Kristine Walsh is completely oblivious to her exploitation until the follow-up miniseries, in Episode 1 of V: The Final Battle. A more apt media criticism would likewise show a blissfully ignorant and uninquisitive press, coddled and fed disinformation by the visitors.

Early criticism of the new V was that it was too political, too easily compared to Obama. That has some truth, but only in rather superficial ways that obscure deeper and more universal political truths that were better explored in the original. The reference to visitor-provided universal healthcare was rather ham-fisted, and is a clumsy analog to the current debate. The new series has also criticized overeager devotion before much actual devotion is portrayed. So far we’ve seen little more than natural curiosity and some horny teenagers anxious to get a piece of Morena Baccarin. (Where are the action figures and play-sets from the original?)

I seem to recall reading that the show had actually edited out some potentially inflammatory political content. The editing job seems rather poor from my perspective. I’m not against political content – in fact I often enjoy it. But I prefer such content to be handled in a thoughtful manner, not just thoughtlessly dropping a few grenades in the foxhole and casually walking away. That’s what the V premiere did. I’d be hard pressed to say whether that is more insulting to Obama (for making such a blunt comparison) or to his critics (for trivializing our criticism of Obama). If you're going to be political, be political.

Even the significance of the title has been changed for the worse. “V” in the current incarnation is short for “visitors”, referred to as Vs. “V” in the original was not explained until after freedoms had been significantly curtailed and hostility to the visitors was widespread. In the relevant scene from the original, some teens are defacing propaganda posters with spray paint when an elderly Holocaust survivor stops them, grabs the can of paint and paints a “V” over the poster, explaining “‘V’ for victory.” Thus, the series’ “V” logo, a freehand spray-painted V. Have the writers squandered this powerful symbolism?

Adding insult to injury, the writers failed to recall a Vatican release from 2008 that anticipates the potential existence of aliens and incorporates them into the Catholic perspective. Two priest characters in the V premiere seemed shocked at a similar Vatican response that aliens are part of God’s creation.

In V’s defense, there may be an upside to the show’s rushed start. Having witnessed the deaths of long-arc network shows Kings and Defying Gravity, it may be necessary for the audience to have an immediate sense that action is coming. If that’s what it takes to keep a show on the air, I’m willing to give it a shot. Though I am disappointed at how the premiere handled several tenets of the original series, there is the possibility that some of the apparent oversights can be rectified.

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