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When Aliens Attack: 'V' Returns With Renewed Energy (and Some Cheese)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 3rd 2011 10:30AM
'V' (9PM ET Tuesday, ABC) certainly had a rocky time of it in its debut season. After a swell pilot, the show slowed down considerably, and 'V' didn't always know how to use its mostly able cast. As the elegant alien leader, Anna, Morena Baccarin acquitted herself well, as did Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays Erica, an FBI agent leading an underground resistance. But the quality of everything else on the show fluctuated quite a bit.

Yet there were hopeful signs toward the end of season 1 that the show had gotten a grip on how to depict Anna's campaign to win over Earth's population and Erica's attempts to reveal Anna's unfriendly agenda.

This season, there's clearly an effort afoot to give 'V' more forward momentum and to delineate the differences between the scrappy Earth resistance and the calculating aliens. Yet there are signs that 'V' itself still doesn't know what it wants to be -- a realistic sci-fi thriller or an alien-invasion melodrama complete with mother-daughter shenanigans befitting a daytime soap.

There's more energy on display, but it's not always channeled in encouraging directions.

A few months ago, the news broke that Jane Badler, one of the cast members of the original version of 'V,' would make appearances in the second season of the ABC remake. It must be said: Bringing aboard Badler and her 'V' character, Diana, was probably a mistake. The story line involving Diana is an overwrought, hammy distraction.

Until now, 'V' had walked right up to the line of camp but resisted going over the edge, but the scenes Badler shares with Baccarin are cheesy in ways that distract from the overall air of realism that the rest of the show is going for. That's a shame, because Baccarin's subtle, thoughtful performance has been one of the highlights of 'V.' On the rare occasions when Anna lost it, it meant something because the character was usually so firmly restrained.

This season, however, the stories involving Anna and Diana or Anna and her daughter, Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) are often either too melodramatic or just plain silly. Baccarin is a very resourceful actress, but even she can't rescue scenes that play like outtakes from a sci-fi remake of 'Mommie Dearest.'

Actually, maybe a sci-fi remake of 'Mommie Dearest' isn't such a bad idea. But 'V' needs to either camp it up completely or go in the other direction and model itself after propulsive dramas such as '24.' The show's attempts meld those two very different tones together just makes for an awkward mismatch.

The good news is, the plots involving Erica's Fifth Column resisters are generally energetic and watchable, even if they are a little predictable at times. Intriguing new elements of the show's mythology are introduced, and the resistance cell recruits a likable new scientist, Sidney (Bret Harrison), who helps uncover new aspects of the aliens' schemes. Even though a number of human characters aren't given much depth (Charles Mesure's character is there, as far as I can tell, to wear tight black shirts and utter threatening remarks), at least the resistance finally begins to rack up a few wins.

'V' could do a better job of giving viewers a sense of the big picture, however. The average Joes and Janes on Earth, for example, seem to be awfully quick to forget the red skies that Anna unleashed at the end of season 1. Then again, context and subtle allegories aren't the show's strong suits. Anna is obsessed with finding out what it means to be human, but it's hard to take that theme seriously when she's unleashing clunky lines like, "Even when it makes no sense to fight, they do."

Having said all that, the third episode of the new season was the strongest one of the three ABC sent for review, so perhaps 'V' will really begin to cohere as the season gains steam. It'll have to. There's so much good new TV coming down the pike that I'm only going to give 'V' a only few more chances to prove that it can fulfil its promise on a consistent basis.

Let's hope the show builds toward more killer scenes between Anna and Erica, who had some great moments in season 1. There's also quite a bit of potential in the story of Lisa, a V who can't help having compassion for the humans she's been ordered to betray. Lisa came off as disposable eye candy at the start of season 1, but thanks to good writing and Vandervoort's steely performance, Lisa has emerged as one of 'V's' most interesting characters.

Maybe Lisa can build a bridge between her own warring instincts -- not to mention the show's clashing tones.

To get caught up on what you might have missed on the first season of 'V,' here's a video recap of season 1. If this clip expires, you might be able to find the catch-up here.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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What bothers me more, the series was cancelled.

August 01 2011 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Uhm, has anyone watched episode 2.1? Including the author of this terrible piece?

V is an awesome show. It does have some weaknesses, but I don't want to see it cancelled, I want it to develop, because it still has a lot of potential. But obviously it's not for stupid people.

January 05 2011 at 4:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I was amazed they dropped major spoilers in their 2-3 minutes long preview -- like don't they want narrative suspense, or something?

Also, the characterization of the Vs is all over the place. Are they supposed to be Vulcan in their reserve? Fine. Just don't have a hissy when your eggs are destroyed, and paint the sky red, mmkay? Lizard queens can't talk about human emotionalism when they slash their lil' princesses up to manipulate public sentiment, then get jealous that superagent mom can manipulate her better with kindness. Either be unemotional, hypocritically emotional or "why bother with the emotions of cattle" emotional, but dammit pick one.

I think that's what makes Badler's addition too little, too late: There is no emotional arc for these aliens that already hasn't been dragged through the mud, but introducing the concept of fully assimilated aliens able to live, love and breed with humans. I think they should have been *more* alien, with emotional sets we'd have to learn about -- but as it stands it's bad soap opera, just like CAPRICA, because its writers don't respect soaps enough to learn their strengths.

January 04 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

So, it looks like 'V' is going to remain one of those annoying bubble shows -- not quite bad enough to drop, but not actually good enough to be fully engaging. Damn...

BTW, could someone stab Joel Gretsch with a syringe of anti-botox? Can't believe they cancelled The 4400 so he could wander around looking faintly constipated...

January 04 2011 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Really enjoy "V"
Sure hope we can finally see some action.
So far,
it seems more like a talk show.

January 04 2011 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

Syfy Channel reran the original last night. Much better than this new pretender. I never saw anything in the new one that made it worth watching.

January 04 2011 at 8:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Enjoy what you can, ABC will not renew this show. They have already cut episodes twice.

January 03 2011 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

waste of an hour. rather have the good guys back.

January 03 2011 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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