After no small amount of anticipation, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the premiere episode of the V television series. As a child of the 1980s, I have fond remembrances of the original, which consisted of two mini-series in ’83 and ’84 and a short lived weekly series that never quite lived up to the hype. I wondered whether the new attempt at rejuvenating this almost-franchise would take what I recalled from my youth and build upon it, bringing the concepts and ideas of the old into the 21st century, mixing in some of what our world knows today that it didn’t 26 years ago. Well, after my viewing of the premier, I’m pretty sure that’s a resounding “No.”
In fact, I even went back and watched the old mini-series just to make certain my memories weren’t skewing reality. If anything, I have even more appreciation for the original after a fresh viewing than I did before. And even more of a dislike for the new model.
Let’s start at the beginning, as in the reveal scenes from each series. In the original, we open with Marc Singer (how can you not like The Beastmaster in the lead role?) and his partner traipsing through some third-world revolution as journalists covering the fighting. There’s gunfire everywhere, helicopters blowing up buildings with impunity, death and dying all around. Eventually, Singer has to draw the fire of a gunship and gets cornered, face to face with death, when suddenly, from over the mountains behind him, comes a giant spaceship. Tense, surprising and a good way to kick off the show. In the new one, stuff starts shaking, people look out the window and say, “Oh, look, a spaceship.” Not quite the same impact.
As for the “they’re really giant lizards in disguise” moments, the old one beats up on the new model, too. In the original, Singer has stowed away on board a mothership with his camera and, peeking through the holes of the ventilation system, he sees the Visitors swallowing small, furry creatures whole, then one with his back turned taking out his human-looking eye covers to reveal evil, red lizard eyes and a forked tongue lashing at him. After over an hour of set-up and many subtle suggestions that the Visitors are not what they seem, there is no small degree of horror with Singer’s realization that these are, in fact, monsters. In the new one, there are almost no subtle suggestions that the Visitors are inhuman, and when Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet from Lost) whacks her partner with an iron rod and breaks the skin on his face, we see a completely unsurprising reveal as a lizard. It was almost an afterthought.
The new version had none of the subtle comparisons to totalitarianism that the original did. The old model was chock full of references to the Nazis and the Holocaust. The Visitors had these devilish looking red uniforms and fat, plastic ’80s sunglasses as a symbol of conformity. The Visitor Youth Group even had brown uniforms, harkening back to the Brown Shirts of the Nazi Youth. The new one has some vague mentions of a possible Visitor terrorist sleeper cell, but otherwise very little in terms of meaning.
Perhaps the most annoying thing to me was the spray-painted V symbol. In the old, the V was a symbol of the resistance, and it stood for victory. In the new, it stood for Visitors, and was the result of an internet campaign to support the newcomers as saviors of humanity. They took the iconic symbol of the show and turned it from one of hope and fighting back to one of acceptance and assimilation. That may change in the new version; this was only the first episode; and as people realize the Visitors aren’t quite what they thought, the symbol could morph back to the resistance, but it still bugged me.
Basically, while the 1980’s version seemed to have a point beyond just a shoot-em-up alien romp, this new one doesn’t. It’s unfortunate that our entertainment companies rehash old ideas in such simplistic ways. When a show is relaunched, it’s an opportunity to build on the original creatively, not just recycle it. I’ll keep my memories of the old V, thank you, complete with cheesy special effects, human-lizard hybrid babies, Freddy Kruger as the friendly lizard and Michael Ironside as the ass-kicking armaments guy. At least it was original.