Any time you’re doing the big network ensemble drama and you have a cast that’s mostly white people, you can pretty much bet that you’re going to get a question asking why your cast doesn’t reflect the racial diversity on display in the United States every day. You could particularly expect questions like this if you were doing a remake of a classic science fiction series where the allegorical implications of said series suggested discussion of how majorities and minorities operate in conflict and harmony with each other, how saviors can quickly become oppressors, like, say, a series like ABC’s new remake of “V.” There’s a pretty standard issue to this question. Something like, “This is an allegory, and we’ll get into those issues more in future episodes” or, “We’ll introduce some new minority characters in the second episode” or, “We’re aware of those concerns, but we want to make sure the show is fun for people to watch.” Any one of those would have been varying degrees of acceptable.
But when the producers of this new “V” were faced with a confrontational questioner who wanted to know why their show featured only one black character (though his assertion that the show featured only one “person of color” was slightly inaccurate, since the show does feature a Latina in its regular cast) and how they were going to deal with the fact that the pilot ends with a scene which features “a blonde-haired, blue-eyed couple who seem to be planning a racial war, they didn’t even skip to the BS answer. They didn’t even toss to Elizabeth Mitchell or Morris Chestnut (the aforementioned one black person in the cast), who both looked like they had something to say. They just ducked it, moving on to the next question. At first, it seemed like they were joking, but, no, they were serious. They moved on to another question without even acknowledging the previous one.
(It’s here that I could insert boilerplate about how problematic I find the general shift of entertainment news to events like Comic-Con from events like the TCA press tour. Both are incredibly stage-managed events, but at the latter, at least all involved are expecting that if some journalist gets up her gumption, they’ll get some tough questions. Here, the pre-panel magic voice asks you to remember to ask “respectful questions” of all involved.)
No one involved seemed to grasp the irony of this occurring in a panel involving “V,” which, as mentioned, has lots of allegorical racial implications but also has a scene where the head of the aliens (Morena Baccarin) tells an Anderson Cooper-esque reporter sent to interview her (Scott Wolf) that he’s not allowed to do anything that might portray her people in a negative light. Hell, Baccarin made a joke about it herself in the course of the panel. And then they went ahead and gave an analogue for that scene right in the panel itself.
The rest of the joint-pilot screening/panel Q&A for “V” was enthusiastic but a little muted. I’d seen the pilot before and expected some huge reactions for a couple of moments in the pilot’s final act, and while both got audible reactions, neither rose to the level of sheer shock. In the case of one, that may be because the pilot so clearly telegraphs that it’s coming, but the other is a genuine surprise and deviation from the original series that would have prompted a larger cry, I had thought. And we’re diving into some mild spoilers from here on out. (And I’ll also insert the standard disclaimer that this is not a final version. There will be some special effects work done, and there are a handful of insert shots that will apparently be futzed with.)
A couple of characters are revealed as aliens in the final act of “V,” which makes sense since the show is about, uh, aliens. However, one of them is revealed to be a good guy alien, fighting on the side of the humans. The idea of traitor Vs was never really embraced like this in the original series, so it’s one of the major deviations from the original show. However, neither of the reveals garnered anything approaching the kind of shocked reaction one might have anticipated from a big reveal like this. Perhaps audiences are so jaded about twists that they’ve started to suspect anyone and anything. Maybe everyone had downloaded the episode on the Internet or seen the Wednesday night screening. Or maybe the fact that the pilot randomly turns into a rather slow-moving cop drama for its entire middle third killed some of the enthusiasm that seemed to be building for the show during the opening scenes of the aliens arriving and the appearance of names like Baccarin’s and Alan Tudyk’s in the credits. (Seriously, the biggest cheer of the screening came when Tudyk first turned up.)
The Q&A afterward was very short, as the room had to be turned over to the “Fringe” panel immediately following. Despite the fact that four producers attended the discussion, as well as most of the cast, most of the people up front didn’t even get a chance to talk. No one even asked Mitchell if Juliet was dead on “Lost” (though I’m sure this was something questioners were discouraged from asking) or got in some question for Baccarin about “Firefly.”
So why remake “V” and why now? Executive producer Scott Peters, who also worked on “The 4400,” said that with all of the bad news in the world since the original was made 25 years ago, especially with recent news of the economic downturn and the battle over health care legislation, there’s a temptation to wish for a savior. “It just seemed like an interesting time to bring about something or some entitiy that would maybe help save us,” he said.
The cast members, for their part, had a few memories of the original show. Mitchell said that she vividly remembered the famous alien baby from the original series, and when the gerbil swallowed by an alien in the original was brought up, Baccarin said, “I’m gonna rely on my wonderful producers to not make me put furry things in my mouth.” It could have been a fun, goofy panel, all around, if the producers had just learned that first rule of dealing with casting questions on an ensemble drama. Instead, there was an uncomfortable overtone.