I kind of feel like “V” should be cheesier or something. The high-gloss sheen that covers the series, from the very-good-for-TV special effects to the A-list cast to the solid technical work, just makes the fact that a lot of what’s going on is pretty stupid that much more apparent. Last week, I speculated that “V” wants to be a lot of different shows, but it increasingly feels like the only notable science fiction series the producers of “V” watched before producing the series was, well, the original “V.” There’s still good stuff in the series, but the overwhelming feeling one gets after watching it is that it’s kind of all over the place and way too dedicated to trying to keep its small-scale and large-scale storytelling separate.
[More on Tuesday (Nov. 10) night’s “V” after the break…]
To that end, the second episode of the new series feels kind of messy. It’s not bad exactly, but it’s not nearly good enough either. I still feel like the series would have been better served with most of the characters having realized that the V’s are bad news and being a part of the resistance. Because what we’re set up with here is just kind of boring drama that’s progressing in a way where we know exactly where everything is going to go. Really, the original “V” is what has gotten this take on the material all of the attention it’s gotten, but the series would have done better to break from that show more radically and come up with a new way to tell the story.
Case in point: Scott Wolf’s Chad is pretty much by default the series’ most interesting character at this point, largely because he seems genuinely conflicted about the V’s arrival and his role in smoothing over their acceptance by Earthlings. He can’t quite his finger on why, but he knows that something’s up, and he’s starting to regret what he did. At the same time, he likes the fact that Anna (Morena Baccarin) has provided something of a meal ticket to him. But as the show plays out the elaborate dance between Anna and Chad, it never feels as high stakes as it could because it’s inevitable that Chad will find out the V’s are evil and join the resistance in some shape or form. I’d rather be watching where I assume Chad will be in season two (using his position to spy on the V’s and Anna) rather than watch him grow ever more gradually suspicious of the V’s.
In general, I feel like everything on the show is way too clear-cut. The V’s are always evil. The resistance fighters are always good. And so on. I’m not saying that a race of aliens hell-bent on destroying humanity shouldn ‘t be portrayed as evil, but maybe there’s a way to give us a clue to their motivations beyond, “They’re bad news!” Morena Baccarin grinning impishly at the camera goes a long way toward suggesting some of those motivations already, but when I think of how, say, “Battlestar Galactica” suggested motivations for its Cylons even before it tried to humanize them, the whole portrayal of the V’s feels much more lacking. I’m not saying that we need to see an entire setup for how their society is run, but when “Battlestar” had one of its Cylons attribute the killing of billions to God in that series’ pilot miniseries, it instantly defined them as a people. “V” has done basically nothing to define the V’s, and we’re just supposed to accept that they’re bad as an article of faith.
Speaking of articles of faith, tonight’s episode seemed like it might really get things rolling in the “Here comes the resistance!” subplot. Instead, we mostly just got to see Jack (he’s the priest played by Joel Gretsch, if you didn’t know) have a crisis of conscience that really shouldn’t have been one. As Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell, still trying really hard to make this work) flails around to attempt to explain away the fact that she was at the warehouse she was at during the closing moments of the pilot, Jack misleads an FBI agent (played by Rekha Sharma, making me think even MORE of “Battlestar”), then decides he shouldn’t do that and goes back to tell her the truth or something and then ends up inadvertently helping the cause. He and Erica sure talk a lot about starting a resistance, but they don’t really do it.
Actually, let’s sidebar for a moment here, because one of the biggest problems with “V” is that it’s trying to be developer Scott Peters’ previous series “The 4400.” I was a casual fan of “The 4400” for the first couple of seasons of its run until the crushing sameness of the episodes got to me (mostly, I just really liked the “It was the future!” twist). That crushing sameness stemmed from the awkward attempts to stitch together a procedural – wherein two FBI agents investigated the mysterious 4400 returnees from abduction – with a more mysterious, serialized storyline. Sometimes, this worked, as when our heroes would discover that one of the 4400 had unexpectedly made the world better with their powers and all of those little betterments were adding up to a better future, but most of the time, the two tastes didn’t go well together.
When I signed on for “V,” I thought maybe I’d be getting “The A-Team” with aliens. “The A-Team” doesn’t have the best reputation, but it’s the kind of show that’s just begging to get a solid update. For one thing, there are virtually no more mission-based action dramas on the air. For another thing, its central premise lends itself perfectly to some Ron Moore wannabe turning the whole thing into a dark indictment of American foreign policy. But the primary thing about “The A-Team” that needs to come back to TV is the idea of a team where each member has a specific role to play when executing a mission. It’s an old, old format, to be sure, but it’s one that has mostly been off the air for quite a while, and it’s one that would suit a series like “V,” where resistance missions should be the order of the day, particularly well. Instead, we’re getting “The 4400” with aliens. Erica and/or someone at the FBI office investigates some alien shenanigans, and then Erica and Jack talk about starting a resistance. Snooze.
Even the big FBI plot this week – everyone wonders where Alan Tudyk’s Dale has gotten off to and Erica is implicated in the suspicion – mostly devolves into Erica checking Dale’s phone records and stuff. Is this really what we want from a show where alien spaceships hover over every major city? Similarly, do we really just want to deal with something as mundane as Morris Chestnut’s Ryan finding someone to sew up the tear in his human costume when he could be talking with his fellow alien traitor about how they’re both ALIEN TRAITORS? And what about those awful scenes featuring the kids expressing their love for each other through a fence? Isn’t Laura Vandervoort’s Lisa just another evil alien? Why should we care?
So, in summation, while I think there’s a lot of potential for “V” (particularly since, now that Peters has left the series, there should be fewer “4400” callbacks), I also wish it would just embrace the fact that it’s an inherently cheesy show about aliens. There’s obviously some sort of allegory that could be had from the series, but it’s not immediately clear Peters has anything he wants to say about anything with the characters beyond a general idea that cops chasing aliens could be fun. Ultimately, the biggest problem with “There Is No More Normal” is the fact that for most of its run time, it does feel distressingly normal.
Some other thoughts:
Check out this piece by my friend David Sims for his thoughts on how the show is being stupid in keeping everyone apart to build mystery. I agree.
The new guy they’ve replaced Peters with (Scott Rosenbaum) as show runner is someone I’ve liked the word of in the past, so I will maintain some optimism for the series.
Also, it’s really hard to do a second episode of a series like this, since second episodes traditionally involve restating the pilot for the most part and a series like this thrives on momentum.
This week’s discussion point: How long can the series keep everyone separated for? Until the ratings start to slide?