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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
(TBA at midseason; TRT: 45:22)
The network's description: ""V" is a re-imagining of the 1980's miniseries about the world's first encounter with an alien race in which the aliens call themselves The Visitors, and have a seemingly friendly agenda that may or may not be a cover for something more malevolent."
What did they leave out? The final product drops a few of the peripheral characters mentioned in our original script review, most notably Valerie's daughter Cassie and their blind neighbor Mrs. Belker, a Holocaust survivor.
The plot in a nutshell: A series of title cards ask "Where were you when JFK was assassinated?" "Where were you on 9/11?" and most tellingly, "Where were you this morning?" And with that at 6:30 AM on a Tuesday morning: 29 spaceships arrive and position themselves above the largest cities
in the world. In the ensuing chaos we meet our various heroes: FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), who's searching for her teenage son Tyler (Logan Huffman); dedicated Father Jack (Joel Gretsch), who's tending to his meager flock; Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), a nice guy purchasing an engagement ring for his girlfriend Valerie (Lourdes Benedicto); and Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), a news reporter who will do just about anything for a story. Collectively they're shocked to discover this isn't an invasion force at all as giant viewscreens form underneath the ships to reveal Anna (Morena Baccarin), the aliens' benevolent leader. She explains they've come in peace and are only looking for assistance in finding a particularly plentiful element here on Earth. In exchange, they're more than happy to offer their technological discoveries in return.
Cut to two weeks later and the Visitors, or Vs for short, have already begun ingratiating themselves to the world's community - whether it be opening up "healing centers," which can cure 65 known ailments, or starting the Peace Ambassador Program, where interested humans can learn about the Visitors' culture and spread the word to others. Two people however are particularly skeptical of our newfound saviors: the aforementioned Erica and Father Jack. The former because said arrival coincides with an increase in chatter from a terrorist cell she and her partner (Alan Tudyk) had been tracking; and the latter because of the almost zealous devotion that has formed in support of these newfound "friends." Not surprisingly both of their hunches prove to be true: a mortally wounded member of Jack's congregation turns up with proof that the Vs have been lying to us while Erica's hunt leads her to Georgie (David Richmond-Peck), who has some surprising revelations of his own about the Visitors. Along the way Ryan gets caught up in the action as an old accomplice of Georgie's; Tyler and his best friend (Jesse Wheeler) fall under the spell of the Vs, including one of its ambassadors (Laura Vandervoort); and Chad discovers just how far he'll go to further his career after becoming the go-to guy for the Visitors' announcements. In the end, more secrets are revealed and a resistance is born.
What works: The opening 10 minutes are particularly astonishing, in no small part due to some stunning visual effects. This definitely isn't your parents' "V." The concept in of itself also proves to be as strong as ever - there's just something inherently compelling about a weekly series which follows our relationship with would be conquerors disguised as saviors. Furthermore, the new "V" wisely reformats it for a 21st century, post-9/11 world, whether it be incorporating terrorism, the internet, 24-hour news channels and the current state of the economy. This isn't so much a re-imagining but rather a redo of the '80s series if it happened in 2009 (or 2010 by the time this actually airs). To that end, "V" is definitely filled with promise as I'm genuinely curious to see where this new incarnation will go.
What doesn't: On the flip side, I didn't really latch onto any of the characters as nearly everyone comes across as one-dimensional and obvious: Tyler loves the Vs, Ryan can't be bothered, Jack doesn't like the Vs, Erica's dedicated and so on. Even worse, there's just not a lot of energy or momentum to the proceedings: we just get flickers of things that may or may not come. It ultimately feels more like going down a checklist than organic mechanizations of the plot to get to the concluding "bum-bum-bum" beats. The dots/checks however don't quite connect - Ryan's last-minute decision to help is never earned; Tyler's hand-wringing about whether to forge him mom's signature to join the Ambassadors never feels like a conflict; and Chad's newfound disgust over selling out doesn't quite match with how we met him - making their lack of dimension all the more frustrating. Even the Visitors don't quite merit ominous status - they're more reserved and analytical than truly threatening. Part, or perhaps all, of this could be the challenge in trying to establish what the original series did in four hours in a fraction of the time. In anything "V" screams for room to breathe - we go from 6:30 AM to a few hours later to a day later to two weeks later in less than 15 minutes - so it can refine its characters and build up the energy to truly dazzle us. In any case...
The bottom line: ...let's hope the subsequent hours find more ways to pull us in.