With Lost headed into its final season in January, ABC programming executives have been doing their best to lay the groundwork for a new intricate sci-fi sensation that will get people talking and inspire obsessive fandom. The first stab at this, Flash Forward, has been on the air since September, with mixed results. Now the network is bringing us V (ABC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.), a new take on the classic 1980s series about seemingly benign alien invaders who harbor secret evil intentions. V is less intricate and mysterious than Flash Forward, but its smaller ambition may just make it more successful over the long term.
- ABC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.
Or it might not: Once touted as a cornerstone of ABC’s midseason schedule, V had its premiere moved up to November, only to then be scheduled for just four episodes before an indefinite hiatus, with the remaining nine of the show’s initial 13-episode order set to air sometime next year. There’s been behind-the-scenes turmoil as well, with executive-producer shifts and a production shutdown for retooling. The proof will be in the quality of V’s episodes, but only the pilot, created before any of the shake-ups, is available for review.
It’s not as immediately attention-grabbing as the pilot for Flash Forward was, but that one also set up a lot of unreasonable expectations for a show that’s been unable to meet them. V’s pilot is more straightforward, although it’s also more hectic, getting through lots of set-up in a single hour-long episode. The idea is pretty basic: One day, a whole bunch of spaceships appear over major cities on Earth, crewed by extraterrestrials who call themselves the Visitors. They look like humans, they speak whatever language dominates the city they’re located in, and they want to help us.
The Visitors have access to miracle medical technology that they provide free of charge to humans, and soon they’re setting up clinics around the world and recruiting so-called peace ambassadors. All of this happens within half of the show’s first episode, making it obvious that this isn’t a series about benevolent interspecies interaction. No, like the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica, the Visitors have a plan, and it’s not a nice one.
The original V was inspired by works depicting the rise of fascism, and this new version has the same allegorical bent. The peace ambassadors are analogues for the Hitler Youth, although not everything the Visitors do is as obviously fascistic (one of their sinister plans, after all, is to offer universal health care). V isn’t exactly a work of complex political commentary—it’s an often cheesy sci-fi show with a quickly established dividing line between good and evil. But it’s confident in its hokiness, and benefits from a number of strong performances, including Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell as an FBI agent who uncovers the Visitors’ true plan and Morena Baccarin as the creepy/sexy leader of the Visitors.
This incarnation of V was developed by Scott Peters, who co-created the USA sci-fi series The 4400, and the two have a lot in common. Both feature multi-pronged narratives relating to the sudden appearance of supernatural beings, both rely on sometimes clumsy, expository dialogue, and both feature major roles for Joel Gretsch (here he plays a skeptical priest). V has a bigger effects budget and perhaps a clearer plan, but it’s still a bit of a guilty pleasure, and for now that works just fine.