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Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of ABC's "V"

One the most eagerly awaited projects of this development season was ABC's reinvention of the classic 1980s sci-fi cult series V.

I had the opportunity last night to watch the gripping and electrifying pilot for ABC's new V, from studio Warner Bros. Television, and was completely sucked in by the promising vision and deft skill of the pilot installment, which sets up a slew of intriguing possibilities for the ongoing series.

For those of you not in the know, V, originally created by Kenneth Johnson, was a series about an alien invasion that aired on NBC during the 1984-1985 season following a successful run as two separate mini-series. Likewise, this new incarnation of V, overseen by The 4400 creator Scott Peters also tells the story of the arrival of an alien race to Earth via behemoth spacecrafts that appear out of nowhere to hover above 29 cities around the world.

Calling themselves The Visitors, their leader Anna (Firefly's Morena Baccarin) quickly makes contact with Earth's leaders to deliver a message (in multiple languages) proclaiming that they come in peace and, in exchange for the use of Earth's water which they need to survive, they will provide the human population with technology, the curing of 65 different diseases, and universal health care.

After all, the world right now is not in a good place. Beset by economic meltdown, multiple wars, and rising discontent, our planet desperately needs a savior and The Visitors seem to have arrived at just the right time, bringing with them the very tools to our salvation. Or have they?

However, despite the populace's open-armed acceptance of The Visitors, not everyone falls under the spell of The Vistors' charismatic charms and studied propaganda. FBI Agent Erica Evans (Lost's superb Elizabeth Mitchell) and her partner Dale Maddox (Dollhouse's Alan Tudyk) are investigating a terrorist cell that could have links to the arrival of The Visitors but Erica quickly learns that the cell, whose chatter has increased after the Visitors turned up, may have informants within the FBI itself. Erica must also contend with her rambunctious teenage son Tyler (America's Logan Huffman) who feels himself drawn to The Visitor's cause. Against his mother's wishes, Tyler is tempted to join The Visitors' Young Ambassadors program and spread the "message of hope" that The Visitors claim to bring, partially because of his blatant attraction to Lisa (Smallville's Laura Vandervoort), an alluring young Visitor guide assigned to the New York mothership.

Elsewhere, Ryan Nichols (The Perfect Holiday's Morris Chestnut) is buying an engagement ring for his fiancée Valerie Stevens (Cashmere Mafia's Lourdes Benedicto) when The Visitors arrive. He seems extremely uneasy about the presence of The Visitors and is quickly drawn back into a conflict that he wants no part of when he is contacted by members of a covert group that could have ties to the terrorist cell that Erica and Dale are investigating. And then there's dashing news anchor Chad Decker (The Nine's Scott Wolf) who is able to use The Visitor's arrival to leverage a better profile for himself when Anna selects him for an exclusive on-air interview. Will greed overwhelm his instincts to question The Visitors' motives, especially when Anna tells him that they "can't be painted in a negative light"? Or will be fall victim to the lures of fame and fortune?

Meanwhile, Father Jack Landry (The 4400's Joel Gretsch) finds himself in a difficult position, having to explain the co-existence of a divine presence and an alien race among us. His job is complicated by the fact that the congregation of his small Manhattan church has suddenly ballooned with people turning to religion in the face of fear and uncertainty and his superiors are pressuring Father Jack to toe the party line and accept The Visitors as a miracle in itself. But Jack worries that gratefulness can quickly turn to worship... and worship to devotion. His fears are realized when he receives a package from a mysterious wounded man who dies after passing along a mission to Jack: he should fear The Visitors and take the package to a specific address.

SPOILER ALERT! It happens to be the very same address where Erica and Dale are themselves headed, after receiving a tipoff at a crime scene about a possible meeting of a terrorist cell. Erica agrees to go in undercover to the meet and, after meeting Jack, discovers just who these people are in a fantastic twist: they are members of the underground human resistance and membership to their group is depending on various conditions. One, that the candidates have been referred by someone they trust. And two, that they agree to be anesthetized and have a section of skin behind their ears peeled back.

Why? To prove that they are human as The Visitors are actually a reptilian race that has successfully cloned human skin, which they wear as camouflage. Worse still: The Visitors haven't just arrived, after all. They've been here for decades and have been fomenting dissent and chaos on the planet for years, destabilizing the markets, creating unnecessary wars, stirring up paranoia and persecution. The fact that they've now revealed themselves is a sign that they are moving into the final steps of their plan. That terrorist group that Erica and Dale were investigating? It's a sleeper cell of Visitors.

I won't spoil what happens next (sorry, I'm not going to give everything away!) but I will say that what follows is a rather obvious reveal about Dale's, er, heritage (which can be glimpsed at in the below trailer), followed by a surprising plot twist that sets up a new direction for the series and creates an interesting situation that, I'm sure, will be mined in quite a lot of detail as the series progresses.

Coming off of her run as Juliet on Lost, the sensational Elizabeth Mitchell is absolutely captivating here as tough-as-nails Erica Evans, a woman scarred by the breakup of her marriage, emotionally distant towards her son, and driven by her job as a federal agent. It's impossible not to root for Erica as she kicks down doors, solves crimes, and seriously kicks ass. It's especially nice to see Mitchell, typically more reactive as Juliet, take a firm, proactive role here. Mitchell and Alan Tudyk make a hell of a team and it's hard not to jump with joy the first time they appear on screen together at the start of the pilot. Joel Gretsch is fantastic as Father Jack, a man torn in half by questions of faith; you wouldn't ordinarily think to cast Gretsch as a man of the cloth but the casting plays against type here and gives this priest a visceral and virile quality not normally seen in portrayals of priesthood.

Scott Wolf is perfectly cast as the suave womanizing news anchor Chad and he oozes the confidence and ego-centric charisma of a man used to getting his way. Morris Chestnut gives a subtle performance as a man caught in a battle he's fought to stay out of for years and find himself pulled between duty and his love for his fiancée. (Sadly, Lourdes Benedicto doesn't have much to do here but act suspicious and cry, but I am hoping that she has more to do as the series progresses.)

And I can't say enough wonderful things about Morena Baccarin's glossy performance here. She seems to radiate a Zen-like calm as Anna, the charismatic and polished leader of The Visitors but there's also an insidious reptilian quality to her as well. The way in which she moves her head and body speak to this effect and her rapid blinking is not only apt for the truth of what lies beneath her skin but it also gives Anna an uncharacteristic tell that is utterly appealing. (I was worried about Baccarin cutting her beautiful locks but her shorn hair works really well here, allowing her show off her classical good looks.)

While the characters aren't as deeply sketched as they ought to be, Scott Peters manages to set up a remarkable amount of conflict during the forty-odd minutes of this pilot episode and he creates enough characterization to set up the players in this sprawling story effectively enough that you're anxious to see just what happens to them next. (The one exception seems to be Logan Huffman, but I am hoping he can grow into the role of Tyler.)

What Peters does do extremely well here is imbue the pilot of V with an immense amount of promise and potential. After seeing just the first intoxicating installment, I'm already delirious with excitement about seeing just what happens next. Like The 4400, V excels at juggling multiple characters, each with their own storylines, and a number of subplots. There's a little bit of exposition at the start and, as I indicated earlier, the characters need some more shading but for a pilot (and one with the run time decidedly under an hour), I think that V perfectly sets up what looks to be an exciting and thought-provoking sci-fi series.

Ultimately, this reimagining of V captures the essence of the original while moving it firmly into our post-9/11 reality and it seeks to answer questions about race, religion, duty, family, compromise, and co-existence. Personally, I can't wait for midseason to find out just what Peters has up his sleeve for these characters and the coming battle.

V will launch in midseason 2010 on ABC.


joy said…
V scared the crap out of me when I was little. No particular reason why, especially because I don't even remember watching one full episode. (Mind you, I do remember a sleepover where I had to hideout while they all watched the show.)

But, the cast seems to be amazing, and you seem to like it. So of course, it's worth a watch.
Anonymous said…
2 things. First the clip at the end is for Eastwick (love Paul Gross), not for V. Second, do we know what night V is on? With a cast like that, I have to check it out.
Asta said…
I loved both mini series as a kid. The image of a reptilian baby emerging from it's human mother's womb has stayed with me all these years. The short lived series that followed was, mercifully, short lived. I watched the two clips ABC released to the media and must admit I wasn't blown away. I'm glad to read such a positive review. It sounds as if this has the potential to be the next great reimagining, following in the footsteps of 'Battlestar Galactica'.
Bella Spruce said…
I know nothing about the original series but I'm really looking forward to this. The cast is incredible. (I can't wait to see Elizabeth Mitchell kick some alien ass!) Plus, I was a big fan of The 4400 and know that Scott Peters can handle a big, ensemble cast and several intertwining storylines. This is one of the only new shows that interests me so I'm thrilled to hear that you liked it!
DunderDome said…
Joel Gretsch and Elizabeth Mitchell? Awesome! How come this is just midseason? Sounds like it's gonna be great!
tony libido said…
sounds fantastic. skimmed over the spoiler stuff but saw enough to gleam that they've fleshed out the fairly cardboard plot of the original. v. exciting.

it'll be bittersweet watching though. how can i watch AT & MB w/o panging hard for FIREFLY. And seeing Joel Gretch (as a priest! kinda hot. no, not really.) will completely re-activate my sadness that THE 4400 is gone (best show you've never watched). . .
greebs said…
You may refer to her as "Firefly's Morena Baccarin" but to me, she'll always be Chloe from the "Swarley" episode of How I Met Your Mother...
Anonymous said…
So they've changed it from a Nazi allegory to an Obama one? lol!
wooster182 said…
This looks great! But why is Alan Tudyk getting so little buzz in this? He's not going to die in this, too, is he?
S Broggie said…
Love Elizabeth Mitchell. I'd give this a shot just for her sake. The trailer looks pretty good too.
This should dull the pain of losing Terminator:SCC. Stupid FOX.
Hey, maybe they can fit Summer Glau in to V now that she's unemployed. She'd make a good Visitor.
Mazza said…
This. Sounds. Amazing!

Elizabeth Mitchell, Morena Baccarin AND Alan Tudyk!??!?!? I am SO there. Never seen the original but this sounds like a lot of apocalyptic fun.

Jace, how do you get all of these pilots so early? ABC just announced V *yesterday*! Can I be you when I grow up?
Anonymous said…
Sounds like they've set up some interesting storylines for most of the characters. I'll definitely be tuning in. Just one question: How big is Alan Tudyk's role? He's not listed among the main cast as I thought he would be.
Jace Lacob said…
Anonymous (and please, again, per the instructions above, NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS),

I don't know that producers have worked out what Tudyk's deal is for the series. He's a guest star in the pilot but so, technically, is Elizabeth Mitchell. That's all I can say right now on the subject.
Anonymous said…
First, I'm happy to see this program got picked up.

Second, hooray that it stars two people of color in the main cast!

Third, the whole cloned skin never made sense in the original show and it doesn't here. Think about Ryan and his fiance getting intimate. Beside the obvious issue of a naked body, what about the mouth?

In the original show, the visitors had forked tongues. Wouldn't the tongues be visible while an alien talked? Teeth? If the visitors have have fangs, pointed teeth, wouldn't they also look odd.
The biggest spoiler is seeing the Alan Tudyk character have his skin pulled back to reveal the reptilian skin. Is he going to be type cast as a villain from now on?
Anonymous said…
Well I certainly hope it doesn't go the way of BSG. I worked on that show here in Vancouver and boy did it ever really jump the shark hard on multiple counts.
Thank goodness this isn't an NBC/Uni show. It would be doomed before it started!
Ally said…
I have to say, I was surprised by how much I liked this. I wasn't really all that keen on watching. I never saw the original, and it didn't appeal to me. I really got into it, especially the second half. I loved most of the casting (but totally agree, re: the son - he was so unnatural to me).

Looking forward to ep 2.
Anonymous said…

V is the best tv serie!!!!
Anonymous said…
Post 9/11 world? Sounds like the new V is inverting the original's message of resistance against a fascism, and subsistuting the conventional paranoia of these times.

Introducing a Homeland Security agent as a hero? In the original, it was ordinary people -- a medical student, a petty street crook, a Mexican gardener, a scientist and his family, and a fearless reporter who were the Resistance.

In fact, in the original V, Homeland Security would also have been collaborating hand and glove with the Visitors. Indeed, the Resistance were seen as terrorists (even so far as official media branded them as such), as the Visitors and their human allies in the police force used propaganda to scapegoat scientists (thus eliminating a major threat) while enacting oppressive measures to thwart the terrorist threat.

I hope they don't botch it up. The original V was compelling because it touched the totalitarianism that could descend on any society, but also the potential of resistance by ordinary people.
Abracadreams said…
I'm from Belgium and I will probably have to wait like two or even three more years before we'll get this on our networks, but hell, I WILL BE COUNTING the days 'till then.
I loved this show when I was little, saw it like a dozen times and I was waiting to hear some more.
I have to say I would've loved to see some of the old caracters, but since it's all from the beginning again instead of moving on from where they stopped, that can't be done.
anyway...two more years to go...
Anonymous said…
where is Faye Grant???? hello?!?!? yea, ok, michael, jane and marc - duly noted... but without Faye Grant, this is NOT "V"... it's just another remake not worth the time and money it took to shoot... sorry miss mitchell, but we loved our Julie and we want her back!!!!
Jacobtheory said…
Alan Tudyk and David Richmond-Peck

I have read recently that Scott Peters has said it will take the resistance some time to grow but that David Richmond-Peck will be back. Saw this at Comic Con and I'm telling you they better get him back soon. Best part of the episode for me. Great character (almost Ham Tyler'ish) but way less cheesy and way smarter. I was watching him way before The Day The Earth Stood Still (I'll remind my friends). I haven't seen intensity like that since Matthew Fox started playing Jack on Lost. Why isn't he in the cast photo??????????

It worries me that both him and Alan Tudyk are getting less buzz. These two are going to definately be the one's to watch this season. Tudyk has been a fav of mine since Firefly and is a tremendous actor. Let's hope his reveal as a visitor doesn't keep him in the background for too long.

If ABC is smart they will capitalize on these guys. Two fantastic actors who have yet to see their day.
Anonymous said…
I don't know. I was looking forward to this, but...Morena Baccarin? She is such a shit actress. No show with her in it ever survives. She is also not the sexy type. I suppose they are purposefully trying to not have people compare her to Diana, but still, they could have tries a good looking woman instead of her. She really does look like a cross between a lizard and an ET.
Eb said…
ABC is promoting this series as "new" when in fact it is a retread of a mid 1980's miniseries and failed weekly.

The lizards from outer space are not the only ones trying to pull a fast one.

Hey, I've got a fresh idea! A successful New York lawyer chucks it all and drags his exotic wife to a broken down farm. Hilarity ensues.
SI-FI Watcher said…
I am from the old school of V, and own the complete DVD collection. Last night episode was so bad that I will not be watching again. The story started out loosely following the story then, then turned it in to a hybrid of Sleeper Cell and Battlestar Galactic with elements of Numbers. For prime time I cant believe that cancelled shows like Moonlight, the Unit and 4400, for this over CGI'ed show if they had kept to the original script,with the latest Special Effects
it could have been a fantastic show, instead of another over rated over price "B" rated SI-FI.
Anonymous said…
I was bored, they really should have just had the ships hover for the first hour and showed humnan reaction instead of jumping right into it. I don't care anything about the characters and the single mom and her son have NO chemistry at all.
eefje said…
Not bored yet, haven't watched the first series so I'm good, have to give it a go at least, just like I did with Flash Forward but that show is done, I don't really like it.
I don't get the comments on the leader, why should she be sexy and who's to say what is sexy and what not? I think it is refreshing actually, don't know about the actress yet. What I kinda feel weird about is, although all the new special effects and their great technology, the space ships always look so old from the outside, where does that idea come from?
The storylines still have to fall in for me but I will keep giving it a try till midseason.
In this day it becomes harder and harder to have an interesting and "new" show.
I do agree that cancelling the 4400 and Moonlight was a major fail.
Best wishes from Holland

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