Thursday, January 06, 2011

things that bug me about V: the series

tuesday night, ABC aired the second-season premiere of V: the series. like bionic woman, another ABC show from a couple years back, V is a reboot of a campy sf show from decades past... and as with bionic woman, i really wanted to like this show, but its lousy execution makes this difficult.

(coincidentally, at the same time ABC was airing the V premiere, syfy was airing the final episodes of caprica, a show with nearly pitch-perfect execution. it might be interesting to compare these shows in more depth, but that's for another time.)

don't get me wrong: V isn't uniformly terrible—it's had just enough clever twists to keep me watching in the hopes that it will improve. but its flaws are so deeply embedded into the heart of the show that this will probably never happen. let's go over some of them:

the counterterrorism/resistance plot was introduced too early. this one is representative of how problematic the show is from root up. we live in a post-9/11 world, and this is a show about the earth being occupied by alien invaders, so it's natural that the producers would want to explore themes of what it means to be a terrorist, when armed resistance is justified, and so on. (themes that were excellently handled in season 3 of battlestar galactica, i should note.) in fact, i'd be disappointed if V didn't get into those subjects. but there's a right way and a wrong way.

in the original '80s miniseries, the resistance movement forms naturally as the earth's inhabitants start noticing that the alien "visitors" aren't what they claim to be. this was played pretty heavily as a nazi metaphor, down to the visitors wearing red jumpsuits and having a logo that looked suspiciously like a swastika. the producers of new V smartly swap this for a terrorist insurgency metaphor, but in their haste they stupidly introduced this plotline in the pilot episode. in order to make this work in the story, this means that the resistance movement is fully formed even before the aliens arrive on earth! worst of all, we're told that the resistance was initially formed by alien sleeper double agents years earlier. so not only is the insurgency introduced too early, but the human race doesn't even get to start its own resistance movement. apparently the aliens are superior to us in that way, too.

the characters are boring and two-dimensional. even the characters who should be interesting are dull as rocks. an FBI counterterror agent who ends up becoming a terrorist sleeper agent? should be interesting, right? wrong: she's the dullest character on the show. a priest who struggles with his faith as he finds himself being drawn into morally compromising situations? snoozeville! an alien assassin who falls in love with a human and ends up with the resistance? yawn. these characters sound cool on paper, but onscreen they're, well, flat. and don't even get me started on the nondescript terrorist guy.

the sets on the alien ships are laughably bad. has there ever been a show with CG that was so obviously CG? perhaps i should've put "sets" in quotes because i've seen more convincing green screen on late night with conan o'brien. the ship's interiors utterly fail at looking like realistic 3d spaces and instead look like something out of a video game.

everyone calls the aliens "V's". ostensibly the aliens are called "visitors" but everyone—and i mean everyone, even the visitors themselves—calls them V's, every time. who the hell talks like that? in the real world, people would alternate between terms: sometimes saying visitor, occasionally saying V, or occasionally using slang insults or slurs. but there is no slur against the visitors; not even a "those alien scumbags". have none of the writers ever seen alien nation?

the garbage about visitors not having human emotion. this is by far the most laughably absurd aspect of the show: the visitors are concerned about becoming tainted by "human emotions", which they claim not to have. as if emotion were some sort of infection that can spread virally (across species, no less). indeed, those visitors who are shown to be "good" are the ones who've been contaminated by emotion, and the ones who are "evil" have not. there is no gray area.

one reason i'd been anticipating this show was that i was hoping for a more sophisticated take on the visitors. i wanted something akin to the battlestar galactica revamp, where the cylons were depicted as flawed, complex people who struggled with difficult moral issues and sometimes chose the wrong path—in other words, they were very human, despite technically being machines. but not the visitors: they're evil conquerors, and the only ones who have any sort of moral conflict are the ones who've somehow developed emotions after spending too much time with humans. this is human exceptionalism; the worst kind of hocum ("only the human heart will save you!").

(lest you bring up a comparison to dr. spock and the vulcans on star trek, it should be noted that the vulcans aren't incapable of feeling: they actually have deep emotions that they train themselves to suppress. this is a far cry from the visitors, who have supposedly never even been exposed to emotion before coming into contact with humans.)

stupidest of all, the writers don't even think through the logical ramifications of what this would mean. love and affection are clearly shown to be human emotions that the visitors don't innately possess. yet ana, the leader, has a keen enough understanding of the human heart that she manipulates her daughter into starting a relationship with a human boy who's important to the invasion plan. even if ana had studied enough to be aware of this thing called love, how could she understand it well enough to manipulate people to the extent that she does?

and while i'm at it, visitor reproduction makes no sense. at one point, ana decides that she needs an army of soldiers for her invasion plans (why she didn't think of that before reaching earth isn't discussed) so she lays many thousands of soldier eggs. this suggests that visitor sexual reproduction is similar to insects on earth, and ana is the queen. if so, then ana would presumably have many thousands if not millions of direct offspring. yet on the show, other than the soldier eggs, ana is depicted as having only one offspring: a daughter. and though we meet ana's mother in the season 2 premiere, these three are the only visitors who are depicted as being related to each other in any way.

then there's the issue of male fertilization and gestation. if the soldier eggs required fertilization, this is never shown nor discussed onscreen. ana simply lays the eggs in what amounts to a huge pond, and they start to grow. yet ryan, one of the "good" visitors, somehow manages to impregnate a human woman, and the fetus gestates inside her womb. the fact that they shouldn't be able to procreate is portrayed as a big deal on the show, but when you think about it, it becomes even more ludicrous. even ignoring the fact that we're talking about a cold-blooded reptile impregnating a warm-blooded mammal, an egg-laying reptile and a creature that bears live young can't reproduce. even assuming that the human "skins" worn by the visitors are sophisticated enough to have working genitalia, this just does not compute. unless the visitors are somehow capable of both egg-laying and bearing live young, which is ridiculous.

apparently the issue of visitor reproduction will be a theme of upcoming episodes, but i can't imagine how they can come up with a coherent explanation given these discrepancies.

so there you have it. a show with great potential, but so marred by lazy writing and sloppy thinking that it's probably unsalvageable. i'll keep watching, at least for now, but i'm torn between hoping that the show will somehow overcome its flaws and waiting for ABC to put everyone out of their misery by canceling it.

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