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Verdict on V: Needs More Lizards

Well, the first four episodes of V have aired now. It’ll be 2010 (March, I believe) before we see any further action on that front. It seems like a very long break if the show wants to retain its audience (we’re talking the bones of four/five months – a third of a year), but it probably makes sense since ABC decided to clean house behind the scenes. And – looking back over the first four episodes, it seems like a necessary decision. Despite the Obama-centric publicity which followed the first episode, I don’t think I’m alone in being a little bit disappointed with the initial run. Being honest, there are a whole rake of problems with the episodes that have aired, but these are typified by one thing that everyone I’ve been talking to over the past few weeks has observed: it needs more lizards.

I always found Diana oddly a-peeling

Okay, we got teased with some reptile action in the first episode when Erica pulled back the skin on her parter’s face to reveal scales and a fisheye. But nothing since. Even when Anna inflicts skinning as punishment for for a member of the fifth column, we aren’t even teased with some scales. I can understand why the series might be holding back: it’s too expensive, or they are saving the big reveal for later in the season. The problem is just that: it isn’t a big reveal.

We know they are lizards. Even those audience members who haven’t seen the original miniseries know that from all the press coverage, and the reviews and the little peep we got in the pilot. It isn’t suspenseful to keep us from seeing the Visitors’ true forms, because we know what they look like. Showing them isn’t ruining some big surprise, it would be offering an oomph moment. It would be interesting to see what the Visitors look like in this new age of more advanced make-up and prosthetics.

In a way, it’s symbollic of some of the show’s problems as a whole. Nothing much has really happened. Okay, stuff has happened – the V’s are indoctrinating a youth party, they’ve been welcomed with open arms, there’s a traitorous cell of V’s, they are drugging our flu shots, there’s a hybrid baby on the way and so on – but nothing big and unknown has happened. It’s all per formula. In fact, the revelation that Valarie is pregnant isn’t that big a surprise – anybody familiar with the mythos could have called that from day one.

The series seems intent on playing notes from the classic series as if tuning a grand piano. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think every science fiction relaunch needs to reinvent the wheel – it’s not necessary to be as different from your predecessor as Battlestar Galactica was, for example. But, if you are intent on hitting the exact same notes as the early product you are basing your own story upon, you need to at least be able to match it in terms of intensity or va-va-voom.

When discussing the original miniseries, there’s always one moment which comes to mind. It’s iconic. You probably know which one I’m talking about already, but – if you don’t – it’s the moment when the alien leader (Diana in that version) eats a rodent. She lowers it down her throat. The effect was groundbreaking at the time (and it looks admittedly hokey now – though it hasn’t aged as poorly as some of the other ‘special’ effects from the series), but it was striking and shocking. And it happened at the climax of the first episode.

That moment is a part of our pop cultural consciousness. Right up there with eating a census taker’s liver or declaring that your name is Johnny and you’re present while swinging an axe. Okay, maybe not right up there, but iconic none-the-less. The current miniseries hasn’t even tried to deliver something similar. I’m not talking about direct imitation of that moment – it would probably come off forced or hackneyed – but I’m talking about giving us a moment in which it clearly distinguishes itself from any other science fiction drama. The invasion fleet reveal gets points for perhaps being a half-hearted attempt, but we’ve all seen alien invasion fleets before. Give us something new.

But then, that’s the problem with the show as a whole, isn’t it? It’s all things we’ve seen before. Shootouts in parking garages, assassination attempts which turn out to be false flag operations, a traitor who needs more resolve in order to remain useful in the face of evil. There’s nothing to distiguish the show from any other conspiracy-theory show ever. And – given it’s meant to be imitating something iconic and classic and distinctive – that’s a real shame.

Being honest, I am not expecting anything shocking or groundbreaking. I’m not expecting a new Lost or a second Battlestar Galactica. I’m just hoping for something a little more iconic than a show that is indistinguishable from all other middle-brow fare. The series hasn’t given us too much to work with when it comes to characters or setpieces, or plotting, ideas or pacing. I’d just like something along those lines.

I’ll be back in march – as I said earlier, I owe it at least a full series before I make up my mind one way or another – but there are serious problems with the series as it stands. Hopefully the behind-the-scenes shuffle might sort things out.

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