November 04, 2009

Bailey Salinger vs. Inara and Supergirl

The original miniseries V was broadcast when I was 12, and it's probably my fondest memory of television in the 1980s. So I had mixed feelings about ABC's new "re-imagining" of the series. But after seeing last night's premiere . . . I loved it.

The new V begins much as the old one did: with the sudden appearance of gigantic flying saucers over the major cities of Earth. The underside of each mothership is a giant Jumbotron, which broadcasts the image of the Visitors' high commander, Anna (Morena Baccarin), delivering a message of peace. The Visitors have travelled a long way and are asking for supplies of water and a mineral they require to sustain them. In return, they will provide new technology and medical services.

The arrival of the "V's" is not universally welcomed. In New York City, FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) is investigating a terrorist sleeper cell that somehow appears to be connected to them. Meanwhile, her teenage son Tyler becomes infatuated with Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) who is organizing the New York chapter of the V's "Peace Ambassador Program" for the local youth. The Vatican quickly pronounced the V's to be part of God's plan - a little two hastily for Father Jack Landry, who breaks ranks to preach that they really ought to earn humanity's trust. Meanwhile, newscaster Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), apparently the one journalist to not bombard Anna with skeptical questions, is granted an exclusive one-on-one interview with her.

Original series creator Kenneth Johnson is writing for the new series, so it treats its source matter with respect. The characters are different, but the situation is basically the same: the Visitors come to earth and gain humanity's trust, but all is not what it seems. One significant difference is our outlook on "ultimate evil" in the post-9/11 era. Gone are the Visitors' militaristic uniforms and crypto-fascist insignias, replaced with fashionable business attire. The V's are like an al-Qaeda sleeper cell. The cast was well selected, particularly Baccarin as Anna, who appropriately projects both serenity and menace.

The major problem with remaking such a landmark television program, though, is that the element of surprise is lost. Everyone knows the secret of the Visitors: they're FREAKIN REPTILES IN DISGUISE WHO WANT TO EAT US. (Sorry for spoiling the surprise if you're under 25.) But Vis off to a good start, and I'm looking forward to future installments. The thrill of seeing the lizards back on TV is almost the same as seeing Doctor Who again, four years ago.