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MSRP: $39.90
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 520 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
• The Actor’s Journey from Human to V featurette
• The Makeup FX of V featurette:
• The World of V featurette
• The Visual FX of V featurette
• Producer Commentary on Episode 11
• Deleted scenes




The Pitch

“The 80’s are big right now!  Ghostbusters! Indiana Jones! Knight Rider – okay, bad example… Remember that show where the lady gives birth to the Ghoulies puppet, a guy tears his face off to reveal a lizard-face and another lady eats a live rat?  Let’s remake that and skip the only three parts that I just remembered about it!”


Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí were an inspired choice for directors


The Humans

Elizabeth Mitchell, Morena Baccarin, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Laura Vandervoort, Scott Wolf

The Nutshell

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: enormous spaceships appear above 29 cities around the world and hover ominously as the world trembles.  Why 29 spaceships?  Well, because 30 spaceships would be excessive.  Duh!

After the undersides of the ships transform into the world’s largest flat-panel screens not featured on an episode of Cribs, we are greeted by Anna, the seemingly human, seemingly peaceful, seemingly hot-if-she-had-a-girl’s-haircut leader of the Visitors.  Humankind is quick to embrace the Visitors, who generously provide miraculous healing remedies and clean energy, because if there’s one thing we know about America, it’s that we covet universal healthcare and clean, renewable power (I wish there was a font just for sarcasm).


“Do you think there’s still time for a Jerry O’Connell-style growth spurt,
or should I abandon all hope?”


Not everyone is instantly smitten with the visitors.  FBI agent Erica Evans (Mitchell) is skeptical, though her son Tyler is quite taken by a lovely alien named Lisa, (played by Laura Vandervoort, the Tomax to Kaley Cuoco’s Xamot). During an investigation into a suspected terrorist cell, Erica learns of the Fifth Column, a resistance group who knows the true physical nature of the Visitors (SPOILER: under their otherwise human skin, they are basically The Real Housewives) and is determined to prevent them from dominating the planet. Due to a shocking close encounter with one of the hostile Visitors, Erica requires little convincing of their ill-intent.

Erica is thrust headfirst into the conflict between The Fifth Column and the Visitors a.k.a. the V’s (not to be confused with the probable lesbian punk band of the same name).  She forms a bond with Father Jack Landry (Gretsch), who is trying to square his ardent Catholicism with the quite unbiblical reality that the world is being conquered by space lizards (one wouldn’t blame him for converting to Scientology).  They soon ally with Ryan Nichols (Chestnut), an operative who has been fighting the V’s for years, unbeknownst to his fiancee.  The trio form the core of a Fifth Column splinter cell determined to stop the Visitors from… um… whatever it is they are trying to do, which is a concept left surprisingly vague even by the end of the season.


One of the people in this picture has had a sex scene with Angelina Jolie.
Hint: It’s not necessarily who you think, but it’s probably who you hope.
 

The show follows two main fronts: the movements of the Fifth Column and the clearly malevolent workings of Anna and the Visitors.  Walking the line between them is Scott Wolf as ambitious newsman Chad Decker.  He enjoys an exclusive partnership with Anna as the spokesperson for the V’s, (if he isn’t selling his soul for ratings, he is certainly renting it out).  He also enjoys an unnerving physical resemblance to me, though speaking as someone who also looks like me, enjoys may not the correct word to use:


FACT: comment threads on his main IMDB page include WHAT A MORON!!!, What a Strange Face! And most damning of all, Sorta Resembles Ralph Macchio. So we’ve got that going for us.

Diverging enormously from the original 1983 incarnation, season one of V does a fine job of establishing its core characters without rushing things too severely and finding a consistent, winkingly serious tone that many genre shows can’t seem to nail.

For good or for ill, there is not a scene in which a lady gives birth to a Ghoulies puppet. But there’s stuff like this:


Um…


The Lowdown

V is likely slightly below the expectations of those who made time to follow it, and yet likely of higher quality than what people who skipped it expected to see.  I fall into the second category; as a follower of Lost, I felt as if I had already seen large portions of V merely from the omnipresent promos superimposed over Jack’s conflicted weepiness each week.  I can’t imagine my reluctance was unique.

The first quality this show exhibits that other mythos-building series seem to lack is propulsion.  The Visitors arrive immediately.  By the end of the pilot episode we’ve already learned that they are not to be trusted, seen Erica Evans throw down her gauntlet for the Fifth Column cause, met her comrades, set up the dynamic between Anna and Chad Decker, and had a glimpse of a V’s true face.  Perhaps the reason this show’s ratings dipped is that after enduring static or redundant programs like Taken, Heroes and X-files, the actual forward movement of the plot gave genre fans motion sickness.


With the V’s, you get a decidedly preppier class of Ugnaught

Most episodes maintain that momentum, with an admitted sacrifice of character nuance and occasional gaps in logic.  For instance, there is an early plan to recover the body of a Visitor for the sake of a public unmasking which is increasingly ignored as the V body count goes up.  Also, even after a pro-human Visitor joins the Fifth Column, educating the other members on the topic of V physiology seems to be a shockingly low priority.  I could go on (a human who knows she’s being tracked by the V’s heads directly to a secluded safehouse, the V ships have the Wonkaesque quality of being larger on the inside than the outside, Laura Vandervoort’s cheekbones actually exist, etc).

All are niggling points of contention if the show is engaging, and engaging is the most appropriate word I can use to define it.  Diverting would be too weak, and gripping would be too strong.  By episode five, when the show takes a turn for the gonzo (Outer-space sex! Lizard-fetus! “Now… my eggs need nourishment.”), it has earned my attention, and since the characterizations deepen as the show progresses, it held me until the end. Some subplots (the hybrid pregnancy or Chad Decker’s arc) move along more fluidly than others (Erica’s son Tyler joining the Visitor-friendly Peace Ambassadors, which includes, no kidding, a super-duper-special jacket), but the show is not criminally intelligence-insulting or self-serious.


The Glee version (Musical Scales) can only be a matter of time.

The first thing you will say about most of the cast is, “Hey, it’s that guy/girl from X!” in which X is a cancelled science fiction show.  Expect to see one or more alumni (each) from Firefly, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The 4400, The Outer Limits, Andromeda, Taken, Smallville, Stargate, Dark Angel, Tek War, and of course, Mary-Kate and Ashley In Action.  This can be distracting, but with a few exceptions, the actors are all quite capable.  The leads and main supporting cast actually make you forget that you are watching camp that has been repurposed into a dramatic thriller.  While Morena Baccarin gets the chewiest role (figuratively and literally), Elizabeth Mitchell overshadows her, particularly in scenes where she plays up the protective single mother aspect of Erica.  Baccarin as Anna, in contrast, is fun to watch, but doesn’t seem to ever quite achieve the level of delicious menace that the show wants her to have.


“It’s okay, sweetie. It will grow back!”

The makers of V wish to laud its advancements in visual effects for a weekly show, and even setting aside its mere saturation with effects shots, it certainly has its moments.  There are no major reveals, but there are some excellent (and some not-so excellent) peeks at the reptiles lurking literally under the skin (or eyeballs… yuck!) of the V’s.  Alas, the fully green-screen-filmed sequences that take place inside the V ship are occasionally distracting.  When did painting a floor for your actors to walk on so that they aren’t magically hovering over a match-moved 3D model become prohibitively expensive?

Warts and all… or in this case, scales… in the end, V is a show about motherhood, brotherhood, and to what lengths you will go to protect your people.  Or your lizards.  Or your lizard-people.  Between its minor offenses in storytelling it has some serious questions to ask regarding terrorism, xenophobia and mass-psychosis. And of course, of course… Laura Vandervoort in her underwear.


Remember, the smart thing to do is to just give Charlie Sheen his frigging watch back.

The Package

A quick shout-out is in order to whatever person or entity made both the FBI Warning and WB logo skippable.  Not just because I’m a busy guy, but because my DVD player telling me that a function isn’t allowed by the disc is already one step to close to the robot apocalypse for my tastes.  Slippery slope, and all that.

The picture was crisp enough to see the very top of a character’s head get cut off in a grisly rotoscoping accident during a shot apparently turned in the day before ZOIC Studios blocked Facebook from its workstations. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is fine for a show with a high ratio of speech to explosions.

Most of the deleted scenes were short straight-forward cuts save for a few conversations between Erica and Tyler that deepen their relationship and give Mitchell a bigger emotional sandbox to play in (to her benefit).

The featurettes are not exhaustive, but do cover the production broadly enough to answer any basic questions you may have regarding how the material was approached, or the methods used to tackle the technical aspects. A producer commentary for only one episode may seem like an insufficient offering until you listen to it. Between gaps of dead air, most of what is expressed is redundant if you’ve watched the featurettes. Your time is better spent simply rewatching the episode, which features the first direct interaction between Erica and Anna.


Pictured left to right: MILF, ECILF, VILF, GIWNF and VANDERVILF

7.5 out of 10