Back in the 1980s, reptilian aliens arrived on earth dressed in fake human skin and red jumpsuits, and speaking in warbled voices about promoting peace and the betterment of the human race. Twenty-five years later, the aliens are better at disguising themselves (through some sort of human skin cloning procedure), and they sound and dress just like humans, but they are still using the same manipulative techniques of telling people what they want to hear.
I am thoroughly mesmerized by both the 1980s miniseries and the new tv series that share the title of V. This single-letter creeped me out big time when I was younger (especially in its recognizable format of oozing red spray paint on a black background. I was five years old when the first miniseries aired in 1983, and six when the second one aired a year later. I am surprised that I watched them at such a young age, and it’s no wonder that I was disturbed: aliens eating gerbils and mice and taking out their fake human eyeballs to reveal yellow lizard eyes, people ripping the fake human skin off of alien visitors, and then there was the birth of the inter-species twins – one a seemingly “normal” baby with a forked tongue, and the other a full-fledged lizard child!
But of course I watched V! Everyone did at the time. According to creator Kenneth Johnson’s website, the original miniseries drew an audience of 80 million viewers! I know that my family tuned in to every episode of both miniseries (from what I hear we should pretend like the short-lived tv show follow up never happened). The new ABC version has now aired two episodes, and while it hasn’t drawn anywhere close to 80 million viewers (more like 10 million), it has created a lot of buzz and has received a near unanimous two thumbs up from critics.
In preparation for the new show, I recently watched SyFy’s marathon of the original V miniseries. I am amazed but pleased that the show has stood the test of time! Sure, there are plenty of blatantly 80s music, cheap special effects, and melodramatic moments (a la all those ’80s primetime soaps), but the story and the characters are fascinating! As a child, I didn’t pick up on the Nazi allegory. But as an adult, the parallels are obvious: the V’s persecution of scientists (just as Nazis targeted Jews), the recruiting of Friends of the Visitors (similar to Hitler’s youth), the swastika-like emblem on the V’s uniforms and flags, etc.
The new version seems to have abandoned the parallels to the Nazi regime, and instead frames the arrival of the visitors in the more timely concerns of our post-9/11 world, namely the threat of terrorism and the difficulty of fighting it. I found it especially interesting that FBI agent Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell) was investigating a terrorist cell that actually consisted of alien visitors. This is a smart change from the original: rather than the spaceships’ appearances marking the first time the visitors came to earth, the new version reveals that many of the visitors have already been here for years, living secretly among us, while plotting a human takeover from within our ranks. That’s actually much more disturbing than in the original (which was pretty creepy, too, as I mentioned earlier). At least in the original version the resistance fighters could easily identify the visitors by their weird voices and distinctive uniforms. As for the new version, how unsettling to think that these aliens look exactly like us, and there’s no easy way to know that they aren’t human. Erica had worked with Dale for seven years, and while he seemed like a nice guy, he was all too eager to kill her when she got too close to the truth.
While the social/political allegories differ, the main theme remains the same: the struggle to preserve the human race and to convince the world that the visitors’ supposed agenda is not what it seems, and that they and their message are indeed too good to be true. Both shows also play out like a suspense thriller, mixed in with a bit of drama. The easiest way to compare/contrast the remaining characteristics of both versions is to take a look at the main characters:
- The Leader of the V’s
- Then – Diana – Jane Badler was so distinctive in this role that she is easily recognizable, probably even now, as evil, conniving, ambitious Diana. She was a ruthless leader who had no qualms about destroying an entire race, using mind control to extract information from a prisoner, or even murdering an innocent priest. Still, though, if she had been dressed in an evening gown instead of her alien-issued red uniform, she could have easily blended in with the ladies on Dallas or Knots Landing.
- Now – Anna – I am amazed by Morena Baccarin’s transformation into short-haired, blinky-eyed alien leader Anna. I hardly recognize her as the actress who played Inara on Firefly. I have been impressed by her captivating and commanding portrayal of a charming and devious leader. Her interaction with reporter Chad Decker has been great, and her “behind closed doors” plotting against the humans has been disturbing but well played. She brings a strange allure, combined with a certain amount of creepiness, to the role that was mostly melodramatic campiness in the original.
- The Leaders of the Resistance
- Then – Cameraman Mike Donovan and Scientist Juliet Parrish – Mike was played by the beastmaster himself, Marc Singer, while Juliet was played by Faye Grant, who is known more now for being married to 7th Heaven alum Stephen Collins than for any of her post-V roles. Mike was the more interesting character, since he was usually the one infiltrating the V’s ship and exposing their true faces, but Juliet had the responsibility of leading the resistance when she didn’t even know anything about being in charge. Regardless of which character was more interesting, they were a duo worth rooting for, and I’m sure the ’80s television audience was pleased when they became romantically involved.
- Now – FBI agent Erica Evans and priest Jack Landry – There’s not much chance of the new dynamic duo hooking up like Mike and Juliet did, since this time around one of them is a priest. I like the changes the writers made in the main characters. A scientist and a camera man wouldn’t have as much influence as an FBI agent and a priest, considering the scenario presented in the new version. As an agent, Erica has access to files concerning the visitors, and as a priest, Jack will be presented with many challenging scenarios. How can a priest, who vows to do what is right, be honest, and keep people’s deepest problems confidential, among other things, be involved in a movement that will no doubt involve deception and bloodshed? On the other hand, if he chose not to act, he would be turning his back on a huge threat to the safety of God’s children. I really like his character so far. I know Joel Gretsch best for his role as an FBI agent on The 4400, and while I was skeptical about seeing him as a priest, he has done a good job, and he has great chemistry with Elizabeth Mitchell. It’s strange for me to see Mitchell decked out in makeup, nice clothes, and with perfect hair, since for the past couple of years she’s been stuck on an island looking pretty rough, as Juliet on Lost. Since we last saw her in extreme peril on that show, it’s nice to see that she has landed a juicy role on V. I really like Erica, but I do wish she weren’t such a clueless mom! She should know that her son’s “promise” to not get involved with the visitors doesn’t mean much.
- Trouble-making Teens
- Then – Daniel Bernstein and Robin Maxwell, visitor Brian – So far there is no human villain in the new version that matches teenaged Daniel’s despicable, self-serving ways. While he was busy working his way up the ranks of the V organization, his parents were tortured by Diana and his grandfather was packed up into a pod as future food for the aliens. Basically, he was willing to step on anyone and everyone for his own selfish gain. I hope that the new version will give us a human just as worthy of being despised as he was. As for the young love storyline, the ’80s version gave us sweet, love struck Robin, who fawned over visitor Brian like he was the latest teen heart throb. Unfortunately for her, Diana turned that budding relationship into a mating experiment, and Robin went through all the trauma of teen pregnancy, compounded by the many unusual side effects that went along with carrying and giving birth to alien offspring.
- Now – Tyler Evans and visitor Lisa – I am quite curious about how the new version will develop Tyler’s crush on visitor Lisa. So far, Lisa seems to be a relatively good-natured alien, but then again, looks can be deceiving. In the original, Brian seemed nice and genuinely interested in Robin, but it turns out he was just as power-hungry as Diana. The possibility and consequences of alien-human offspring don’t seem as monumental in the new version, since it seems like it would have already happened, what with so many visitors already being integrated into human society. I wonder how the writers will address this issue. But I’m gektting way ahead of the story here. Right now, Lisa is simply Tyler’s motivation to get involved with the Visitors.
- The Ambitious Reporter
- Then – Kristine Walsh – Kristine’s professional ambition, and willingness to step on anyone for the sake of her career, made her an extremely irritating character. I felt no sympathy for her until her one redeeming moment, when she finally stood up for what was right.
- Now – Chad Decker – Oh, Scott Wolf. I loved him as Bailey on Party of Five, but wasn’t sure what to make of his more grown up character on Everwood. So far I am intrigued by his portrayal of the ambitious but slightly good-intentioned reporter. I hope he doesn’t fall into the same sticky web of power and fame that Kristine did. I’d prefer that he join the resistance and work against the V’s from the inside. After all, they need someone with an inside connection.
- Human-friendly visitors
- Then – Willie (and his waitress girlfriend Harmony), Martin – I really liked Martin in the original. He was the noblest of the visitors – willing to risk his life for the sake of doing what was right. So far there isn’t a character like him on the new version. Willie and Harmony were almost comic relief. I was amused to discover that Robert Englund, best known for playing horror icon Freddie Krueger, played such a dopey, gentle-hearted character. He and Harmony’s relationship was really sweet, especially after she still accepted him despite learning of his true appearance and eating habits.
- Now – Ryan Nichols (and his human girlfriend Valerie Holt) – Ryan is definitely not comic relief. He is intense about everything from picking out an engagement ring to answering his cell phone to sneaking off to a mechanic’s shop to get his reptilian arm repaired. I like him, though. I’m not so crazy about Valerie, mainly because she’s not very interesting so far. I have a feeling she won’t be as accepting as Harmony if she finds out the truth about Ryan.
- Dale Maddox – There is no counterpart in the original to this visitor disguised as a human FBI agent. In a way, I suppose he is the new version’s Kristine Walsh, since Kristine and Mike were close until she basically went over to the “dark side” (Dale and Erica are close professionally speaking until he reveals his true nature and disappears). It makes sense for the writers to introduce an entirely new character to be the leader of sorts for the terrorist visitors who have infiltrated human society. I look forward to seeing more of Alan Tudyk in this role, especially since Dollhouse, on which he played the villainous and basically insane Alpha, has now been canceled. It is strange to always see him in these bad guy roles, since he was such a goofy, likable character on Firefly (may Wash rest in peace…)
Many questions remain unanswered for the moment on the new series:
- What is the Visitors’ true agenda?
- Do the Visitors plan to eat the humans, steal all the earth’s resources, destroy the earth, or all of the above?
- Is Tyler going to be a lizard-baby daddy?
- Will any more of the supposedly human characters be revealed as Visitors?
- Will reporter Chad Decker hold on to his journalistic integrity (is there such a thing?!), or will he become a media puppet through which Anna will spout propaganda to the public?
- Will the writers pay homage to any classic V moments, such as Diana swallowing a gerbil, or Mike ripping off the fake human face when he fought one of the aliens?
Hopefully, the new show will have a chance to find its footing and tell its story before it gets canceled. It is worrisome that there was a drastic ratings drop from episode one to two. I suppose it’s good news in a way that the show only has two more episodes to air before going on a planned hiatus until the spring. Perhaps by then viewers will be ready to tune in again after months of anticipation. If not, then at least we always have the truly classic original to return to for a complete and satisfying tale of manipulative, lying lizard visitors from outer space and the human resistance movement that brought them down with a lot of heart, hope, and helium. (In case you don’t recall, hot air balloons were an important factor in the humans’ final battle with the visitors…)
What do you think of the new V so far? I’ll leave you with a scene from the original miniseries that really disturbed me as a child, but which I now find quite amusing, particularly because of the dated special effects.