Wednesday, December 16, 2015

V S1 Ep2: There Is No Normal Anymore

"We'll answer questions, but more questions will be asked. ...I think by revealing another piece of the puzzle in every episode, it will feel very satisfying. Sort of like Lost, which was a wonderful show with asking questions, and I think we're going to do the same kind of thing, but we're going to answer a lot of questions, too. I think there will be more answering of the questions."

-Showrunner Scott Rosenbaum with a clear enthusiasm for V, SciFiNow #39, p.58-

It seems pretty clear there will be questions in V. It's clear there will be answers too. But there will be more questions. Yet there will be more answers to questions for sure. In fact, maybe more answers than questions, which should leave us short in the question column. I think. Anyway, never mind. All that I have read by the team involved with V feels like there was more excitement and more talking about the plans for V than actual thinking and contemplative consideration of what was going into this thing. V is sorely lacking in intelligence and that certain quality of craft on almost every level.

The concerns surrounding this V (2009-2011) series out of the gate were legitimate. The creators were shooting for "richness" and "legs" (according to actress Elizabeth Mitchell) for a long-running mythology, but the production turned out a crippling fist season. At times characters are flat and lack the dynamic presence required to fully immerse us in this world. The cast for Moore's Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) and the level of detail was so immersive in almost every way as a comparison. Script weaknesses compound the problems on V. Green screen visual effects as backdrops grow tiresome.

On the up side at times there is a good deal of suspense to V, though not necessarily scary, but certainly intriguing. And those exterior spaceship shots are a delight, just not enough. Despite all its potential V simply doesn't deliver.

Writer John Kenneth Muir at his blog, John Kenneth Muir's Reflections On Cult Movies And Classic TV, noted the series lacked visual distinction. That is an entirelt fair statement. V is indeed lacking here. V suffers from falling prey to a visual look that seemed to dominate television at the time and certainly seemed influential following the demise of Lost (2004-2010).

V feels manufactured and uninspired in its edits, beats and build of suspense like so many others. The Nine (2006-2007), also featured Scott Wolf and Lourdes Benedicto, tried and failed. Remarkably, Fringe (2008-2013) managed to have enough going for it to survive five seasons. Series like Flashforward (2009-2010), Revolution (2012-2014) and The Event (2010-2011) followed, crashed and burned. V suffers from that same aesthetic and design to a fault and fails to carve out a strong identity of its own dooming it along with the likes of the aforementioned efforts. Everyone and their brother seemed to be aping the Lost formula for success to the detriment of originality and V certainly had a strong foundation.

Clearly the television audiences were hungry for originality and simply mirroring a successful formula in many respects was revealing, like those lizards behind human faces. If originality wasn't in the cards familiar conventions had to be executed much better than they were for the ill-fated V.

It's one thing to defer to current events and build that narrative into the plotting, but it's another thing to skirt real, hard science fiction and V is a bit light or soft in this respect. No plumbing or mining for alien details ever seems to take the show deeper than its surface visuals (alien skin, a floating ship over the city). It's more concerned with the kind of formulaic crime drama tension often associated with the likes of NCIS and other police procedurals popular with the masses. It makes every effort to build upon that style of television drama rather than generate something truly original. This is where V falls down the most and yet it still entertains to some degree despite its shortcomings.

A cross-cutting edit between two separate sequences makes for a thrilling dramatic component in V, Season One, Episode 2, There Is No Normal Anymore, but it's by no means a new technique.

Character motivations also seem slightly askew or odd for an alien takeover. While the aliens assure us they come in peace I can assure you if a spaceship was hovering over my home I would be packing up the dog and family and hightailing it for the country or far, far away. This was precisely the more logical response in AMC's Fear The Walking Dead (2015-present) when it is learned there is an outbreak and the dead are walking the streets. Yes, fear the dead and fear those aliens with promises of hope and change hovering over your city. The lead characters in Fear The Walking Dead plan to evacuate and get the hell out of dodge. The reaction in that series is authentic and real and the response is visceral. In fact, despite its mixed responses, Season One of Fear The Walking Dead is a more credible, real invasion experience.

Sadly, the creators manage to get some of the tension and atmosphere right, but omit application of a proper, quality, science fiction script with intelligence. As Season One of V progresses there are downright cringe worthy moments. I was embarrassed for the actors. Selling some of the dialogue and bringing epically dopey lines down to Earth is no easy task here and unfortunately it becomes an uneven mix of good and bad for the series. It is a strange thing to watch. It's a slickly produced soufflé of half-baked ideas.

Casting is a bit off for V particularly with Elizabeth Mitchell at the helm. She was fine in her role for Lost, but here she is heading a major TV series re-launch. She makes actress Anna Torv of Fringe seem more like Claire Daines of Homeland (2011-present). Mitchell is just not good enough in the part and to make matters worse for her the scripting is weak at best.

Writer Muir called the series "woefully flat; lacking in suspense, scares, visual distinction" and "interesting characters."

Funny enough, when it comes to politics, Muir is a bit like my political doppelgänger. That's not to suggest he's my evil twin or Bizarro Superman just of a different mind on some matters. It's like we were separated at birth. We're like flip sides of a political coin offering any number of political counterpoints but often find common ground on any number of subjects. But he's never unfair and I'd like to think I'm open to hearing the other side as well. Politics have little relevance when it comes to endorsing a product. It has to be good. I know Muir had problems with the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and politics had nothing to do with it. The same holds true for V.

Glen Garvin of the Chicago Tribune cited the series as "controversial" merely for calling into question the policies of the Obama presidency. He called it a "barbed commentary on Obamamania" (recognizing there was a mania) "that will infuriate the president's supporters and delight its detractors." This is an interesting point in that Garvin makes an unfortunate observation regarding the state of the media, a media clearly influencing their coverage of our nation with the sway of their own political ideologies and agendas. Any good journalist worth his salt would present information in an unbiased fashion. For those who think politics would have any sway here, this writer is here to tell you I was not delighted by V proving politics should not influence honest debate or civil discussion in seeking truth.

Troy Patterson of Slate noted the parallels between V and the Obama administration citing, "if the show is to have the symbolic import that we expect from a science-fiction story, this is the only possible way to read V as a coherent text. The only problem with this analysis lies in its generous presupposition that the text is, in fact, coherent." Patterson gets both points right, the political and the fact it rests upon relatively suspect writing.

If Battlestar Galactica was an allegorical referendum on the presidency of George W. Bush V feels much like the political equivalent to such an approach on Barack Obama. Both V (2009-2011) and Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), in particular, bring out the political animal in all of us. One of them just did it a hell of a lot better than the other in engaging us to its ideas.

Political subtext aside, and that becomes less pronounced or awkward going forward, V is a bit of a mess. In fact, it's not very artful with its subtext throughout the series. Ironically, what the episode, There Is No Normal Anymore, illustrates a touch too much is that this is pretty normal, cookie-cutter television. It's just not particularly special. It certainly fell well below the appointment television standards.

V, Season One, as a whole, is oddly entertaining in parts, quite a bit daft often times, but like a train wreck, hard to walk away from it. All of the complex weaves intended for V are not written well or not executed well making it difficult for the uniformly uneven casting to carry it all off even slipping into cheesy silly at times. In fact, V is an almost uncomfortable viewing experience as nothing ever sits quite right from script to performance. It feels alien, but not like it should. As the season continues and concludes there is much overly contrived nonsense. It's just not spectacular, quality science fiction as big as it means to be. V simply doesn't lift off in the way you hope from the very beginning.

Aside from its political messaging and reflection of current events the series makes efforts to play with faith, or lack thereof, belief and devotion, of course, in false gods.

The use of green screen throughout V is also extraordinarily overwhelming, or is it underwhelming? There is so much artifice in play that it only serves to amplify how V lacks authenticity and feels kind of phony and sterile on almost every level. There Is No Real Anymore might have been a better title.

There was indeed a youthful exuberance and vigor by the creative team in attacking the new V series from everything I have read by Scott Rosenbaum, Scott Peters and others. There was clearly an energy for putting it all together, but it just never coalesces in every aspect of the series. There Is No Normal Anymore and the rest of Season One never seems to sharpen its focus, its performances or its narrative.

This writer wishes there was a more positive experience to report regarding the series, but alas there is not. All the efforts, of which there are many, sadly just wind up kind of feeling a bit dumb and that's much kinder than one critical letter in SciFiNow whereby the writer preferring to not mince words simply noted "it sucks." V is no Lost and not even in the same orbit. V is for vacant, unessential science fiction television and, unlike both must own versions of Battlestar Galactica, the new V is one series with which I will not be returning.

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