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 V.18 No.47 | November 19 - 25, 2009 

Idiot Box

Strange Invaders

“V” on ABC

One of the bright spots on the fall 2009 schedule (at least for those of us who are ’80s-obsessed) looked to be ABC’s “reimagining” of the camp-classic 1983 sci-fi miniseries “V.” But before it even aired, the Internet was atwitter with ugly rumors. First, ABC fired and hired a number of showrunners (a TV term for “a non-writing producer responsible for day-to-day operation of a series”). Then, ABC tried to screw the show’s original creator, Kenneth Johnson, out of credit (and therefore royalties) by saying this new TV show called “V” (about lizard-like alien invaders plotting a wholesale looting of Earth’s resources and fighting off a scrappy human resistance while pretending to be beneficent) had nothing in common with that old TV show called “V” (about ... yeah, pretty much the exact same thing). Not surprisingly, the network lost that battle. Finally, ABC came up with the ridiculous idea of running just four episodes of the show and then pulling it off the air until next spring.

All in all, it looked like ABC didn’t have much confidence in the series. Then, it premiered.

The first episode of “V” landed 14.3 million viewers, making it the highest-rated new show of the fall season. Even more shocking, it managed to expose a chink in the armor of CBS’ previously impervious, acronym-heavy crime show block. (Although “NCIS” still lured more viewers overall.) Ratings for the second episode of “V” did drop 27 percent—but that’s pretty much par for the course. It’s still a successful number for a freshman series and represents about a 200 percent leap upward from ABC’s previous Tuesday night timeslot occupant (the financial reality show “Shark Tank”).

So far, “V” is proving to be a mostly savvy mix of old-school camp and modern-day revisionism. Some have lambasted the show’s rapid pace and simple-minded symbolism. But with so much dense-mythology storytelling on TV (“Lost,” “Dollhouse,” “FlashForward”), it’s refreshing to see an entirely accessible piece of science fiction. Is it mainstream? Sure. Is it fun? That too.

While it shifts around a number of the character archetypes from the original miniseries, this new “V” sticks pretty close to the formula, giving us slyly duplicitous aliens, gung-ho Earthly collaborators and conspiracy-busting resistance fighters. A new subplot about well-entrenched alien “sleeper cells” adds a timely dose of paranoia. And it’s hard to argue with the fine cast (Elizabeth Mitchell as a tough FBI agent, Scott Wolf as a smarmy TV broadcaster and Morena Baccarin as the deliciously evil alien leader). At its weakest (the priest character seems like a hammy bit of symbolism), “V” is an ensemble drama still searching for its best footing. At it its finest (Baccarin’s chillingly direct order to Wolf not to ask any questions that would “portray us in a negative light”), “V” is a sharp parable about what a modern media war with evil space aliens might look like. Too bad we have to wait until 2010 for more.

The fall season finale of “V” airs this Tuesday at 8 p.m.


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