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so, how much did ABC’s ‘V’ reboot suck?

[spoilers]

Man, I kinda knew that ABC’s updating of V — a dubious idea if ever there was one, except that anyone who scoffs at anyone who wants to update old sci-fi right now will get the glory that is Battlestar Galactica thrown in their face — was gonna suck. But I never imagined it would suck this bad.

It’s sort of stunning, actually, even grading on the network-TV scale, how much of a misfire this new V is. There are no characters to care about — no matter how hard the mostly talented cast tries — because the first episode was crammed full of enough plot for an entire first season. Really, how do you skip from the most momentous, most paradigm-busting event in the history of humanity — the arrival of aliens — to “three weeks later”? How do you pass over all the many, many cultural earthquakes that would be happening in that time?
I was especially bugged by the character played by Morris Chestnut. Not by Chestnut himself — he’s fine — but by how poorly the script uses him. We know absolutely nothing about him except that he’s about to propose marriage to his girlfriend. He’s just Generic Nice Guy Who Works In Some Sort of Office, and then all of a sudden he’s one of these secret lizard people? C’mon! This is the kind of thing that should have been revealed after we’d gotten to know him over the course of at least a handful of episodes, so then we might at least know how to react to it. Are we shocked that he’s an alien lizard? Do we like him anyway, even though he’s an alien lizard? But like this? It smacks of dramatic desperation.

The situation was basically the same across the board, for every character. Elizabeth Mitchell’s FBI agent… she’s tough and complicated, but just take their word for it. Her son (Logan Huffman) is ignored and hurting… but just take their word for it. Joel Gretsch’s priest doesn’t trust the aliens… you don’t need to know why, you don’t need to see anything they’ve done that’s suspicious, you just need to deal with it, okay? Scott Wolf’s fame whore of a news anchor… he’s just a fame whore of a news anchor, and if he hesitates to indulge his whore-iness, well, you don’t need to know why — he just does, okay?

Morena Baccarin’s alien leader? Do you really need to know anything other than that she’s hot and flirtatious? Of course not.

*sigh*

It’s like the outline for an entire first season of a series got crammed into the first episode. This wasn’t a pilot for a series: it was a sketch of a series.

Oh, and, seriously: the show is gonna plug into the old nutso conspiracy theory that lizard aliens are already among us and controlling, you know, everything from who wins the Super Bowl to what color car you’ll be able to buy next year? And they’ve been among us for years? Okay, fine. I’m not buying it. I could have bought it, if it had been presented in a way that made me care. Like this, it just makes me laugh. And not in a good way.


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posted in:
tv buzz
  • JT

    You nailed it. There was absolutely no feeling of this mammoth, worldwide event actually happening. It was like they thought the audience would lose interest at the first instance of a slight lull in proceedings, so they decided instead to cram every single second with plot developments, awkward exposition, explosions, CGI spectacles or fight sequences.

    The dialogue too was just terrible – how did the conversation about the kid’s video on YouTube turn into a talk about how he’s acting out because his father is not around?

    They’ve already given away the aliens’ true intentions and the genesis of the Resistance (which will probably pale in comparison to the masterful episodes chronicling the resistance against Cylons on New Caprica). How can they possibly keep this going?

    Without letting the audience invest in the characters and absorb the magnitude of the aliens arriving, all the twists had no impact and I was just bored.

  • Vanessa Pytlewski

    I felt like it was all chopped up and they were showing us just enough to keep our heads spinning wondering if we missed something. I don’t know what you would think if you had not seen the original.

  • Michael

    Curse ABC’s sudden but inevitable betrayal.

  • Michael

    By the way, what’s the difference between a reboot, remake, and reimagining? (Aside from no one saying the second, marketing types loving the first, and the third reminding me soley of Marky-Mark and the Planet of the Apes?) :)

  • misterb

    Good question, Michael. To me, they are all synonyms for no creativity.

    Like Pablo Picasso said, “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”

  • RogerBW

    Well, actually… I thought it was the best pilot I’ve seen this season. (Granted, it’s only competing with FlashForward and Stargate Universe, both of which I’ve dropped.)

    It may help that I haven’t seen the original V, but while I agree that the characters were purest cardboard and the storytelling is formulaic, there was at least something happening – not the usual “drag out one episode’s worth of plot to an entire season” that we see in other shows. Ideas are not the hard bit of writing, so don’t ration them as though they were something precious; keep them flowing and I at least will forgive a lot.

    As a pilot, the job of this episode was to establish the ground rules of the universe and set up what’s going to be happening next, while at the same time being interesting. For my money it delivered.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Michael: I think a “Remake” is when they slap a fresh coat of modern over something without _trying_ to fundamentally change it (Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho”, Star Wars “Special Editions”).

    A “Reimagining” is when they DO try and tinker under the hood. In the best examples, this can serve as literary deconstruction, bring out new themes, or use the old setting as a basis for what is essentially a new story. In the worst examples, the new creatives aren’t nearly as clever as they think tey are, and wind up messing with people’s nostalgia to no productive end.

    “Reboot” is when they acknowledge that the old material and new material are technically related, but want you to pretend the old stuff didn’t actually happen. (Alternate realty sci-fi a la “Star Trek”, or dream sequence reboots of “Dallas”).

    As I said before, I’m not actually adverse to remakes or modernizations or what-not, any more than I object to different theatre companies presenting the same play. It just needs to not suck, which can be a mug’s game against the all-powerful polish of nostalgia.

  • JoshDM

    Juliet’s son is going to nail Supergirl and catch a case of “The V’s”.

  • Althea

    Whoo, I’m really glad I read this. As it happens, ABC was lost to many of us without cable and with minimum antenna reach after the HD conversion. I didn’t expect to see V except on Hulu, but just on a whim decided to check in on the ABC channel again to see if anything was happening, and by George there it was. (The local station must have amped up their frequency somehow, I was told it wasn’t possible.)

    So there’s the last half of V, and it seemed strange that they’d gotten to having a resistance already, how’d that happen so fast? What I saw didn’t make a lot of sense – why are a bunch of people shouting “We are of peace!” like the visitors have made themselves a hit after only half an hour – plus the characters don’t seem to have much impact, even the ones in the resistance who are shouting at each other.

    Golly, looks like I don’t need to worry about catching up. Thanks, everybody!

  • RyanT

    I don’t know. I quite liked it. I get your gripes about the “three weeks later” and the quick reveal, but as a stand-alone piece of TV, it was one of the best drama pilot I’ve seen in years.

    Maybe it helps that I haven’t seen the original V. It seems as if there really is a critical divide between those who have seen the original and those who haven’t with the latter giving the show good to great reviews.

    I also tend to give pilots a pass when it comes to that little thing called character development. It’s a rare pilot that can do that well while at the same time trying to hook the audience. The next episodes, of course, have to touch on this or else it will falter.

  • http://nerdycellist.livejournal.com nerdycellist

    When I remember watching the original V, the lizard reveal was shocking. I was a kid then, so I’m not sure that’s what the adults got.

    But part of the problem with re-booting it is everyone already knows the big surprise. Where do you go from there?

    Sounds like I wouldn’t care anyway, and despite the presence of my imaginary boyfriend, Alan Tudyk, I think I’ll be skipping this one.

  • Mike

    I never saw the original V. Just watched the new one last night off TiVo.

    Yeah, they threw a lot of plot into the first episode. But the character development they did manage to do was ludicrous. It’s almost like the damn show was written by aliens. If they’d put in any more of their crappy, cartoonish, character development into the show, I’d have switched off. An interesting contrast to Defying Gravity which was all character and who’s plot seemed so shaky it gave you the impression that you’d started across a bridge that hadn’t yet been completed. (I guess that’s just my impression http://www.cliqueclack.com/tv/2009/10/29/how-defying-gravity-would-have-progressed-straight-from-the-creator/ )

    The plot development they did do didn’t do much for me. Maybe it was just too much at once, maybe they’re just bad at it, but I didn’t care about underlying issues, or relate the plot to issues of the day the way I did with Battlestar Galactica.

    Good graphics, though.

  • mortadella

    Ditto on what most of you posted here already.
    Also, I didn’t buy that a generous portion of the population was all ready and able to worship the aliens….it’s like all the scary alien invasion stories that have been circulating in pop culture forever don’t exist in this world.

    And seriously, based on Anna’s appearance and behavior,no one suspected she’s a robot, much less a lizard? She was sooo restrained, and spouting gentile platitudes like an automated PR rep.

    That reporter….we meet him as ambitious and hungry, then he gets his big shot. Anna tells him if he presents anything negative about the Visitors, she’ll pull the plug on the interview. OK, he’s troubled, which contradicts everything we’ve seen about him so far…..but more than that, I couldn’t help thinking that he would have made an even bigger splash for walking out on the interview at the last minute. People would want to know why, people would be calling him up on the phone wanting to interview HIM. Did he see or hear something that the rest of the public should know about? Would this in fact, transform him into the kind of journalist that he should have been aspiring to be all along? And wouldn’t he become important to the resistance movement against the V’s?

    Gosh, I guess I just appreciate character development too darn much.

  • Paul

    Maybe the writers figured, hey, everyone knows the big surprise, so can we get past it to something else? We wait and see to see if there is something else better past the rush job.

  • Anne-Kari

    MAJ, you really did nail it. I guarantee that at some point, we’ll hear about how this was supposed to be a 2-hour pilot and how the network said to keep it to 1 hour. I really think had they been able to develop any kind of, you know, PLOT AND CHARACTERS this would have been much better.

  • Alison

    Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. I watched the original pretty regularly when it was first-run, and yes, the ‘reveal’ was pretty surprising for that time. However, I think it would have been totally dishonest for the producers, writers, whomever, to try to pull that off again.
    I thought that the compromise (they’ve been here for a long time) was a rather smart one. As for the ‘three weeks later’, apparently the arrival had little to no impact on our intrepid FBI agents, being so caught up in their work and all.
    Yes, there was an awful lot of bad exposition, and it did seem very rushed, but, I didn’t need to be spoon-fed details to get why the priest is now doubting his faith, etc. For good or bad, this has become a favorite device among fiction writers, so, I am content to wait until the next chapters to get some of the other back-stories filled in.
    I don’t know that I will watch regularly, but, I would be much more apt to if they get rid of the kid. I wouldn’t mind seeing him pushed out of the alien spaceship. Or eaten.
    That would improve things dramatically.

  • stryker1121

    With four eps then a hiatus til March, it’s no wonder they’re fast-tracking the reveals and major plot points. Seems like ABC can’t afford a slow-burn.

  • bridget

    It was supposed to be a 2 hour pilot then a series its now 4 one hours and then coming back in the FALL? I agree that it was meh but it sounds like ABC gave up on it before it even hit the airwaves and made it worse before the audience got a chance to weigh in.

  • RogerBW

    Thank goodness it wasn’t a two-hour pilot. I like this high-density approach – I’d much rather have this packed 46 minutes than the longer pilots we’ve been seeing recently that stretch out their precious few ideas to fill the time, culminating in the supreme flabbiness that was the Stargate Universe opener.

    I agree that having multiple short blocks is a poor way to build the momentum that shows seem to need these days. Ten or so episodes looks like a working minimum. I’d hoped that the concept of the “television season” had finally been laid to rest after the WGA strike, but it looks as though the networks are still clinging to some of its trappings.

  • http://law.ufl.edu Lawschool_Douchebag

    This is the worst ABC pilot since Lost.

  • Mo

    *blinks*

    Is it a having seen the old series thing?

    Because I went into this knowing nothing other than that there were aliens, and I really, really loved it.

    I didn’t want all the immediate aftermath character fluff. I sometimes get a kick out of figuring them out afterward and this is one of those cases. I’ve seen enough real life media hysteria moments to have a pretty good picture of what the next 3 weeks are like- endless gossip and rehashing of what little the people and the news already knows until it seems like the aliens have always been there. Those aren’t the point of what the show is about as far as I can see.

    The point is the human reactions over time and how they change. You need to compress time to show that. The point is the big Hitler Youth scene at the end and how they all walk straight into it so naturally that they wouldn’t have even thought it might be a bad idea. The people like the priest who are mistrustful are mistrustful because they can see that happening- how people are reacting. It’s part of a priest’s job to keep people focused on that big picture instead of the new novelty. Actually, I’ve used my own version of that exact bandwagon speech more than a few times often for things I ended up liking quite a lot.

    As I saw it the whole big point of this exercise wasn’t to say ‘oh look, here’s a character and a backstory and some great big evidence, so they’re going to ask questions- isn’t it so obvious?’ It was to say here’s a character who for whatever personal reasons asked questions even when it didn’t make sense to and they got a big answer in return.

    Am I the only one getting all that? Am I crazy?

    Or is the problem that it was too obvious and too manipulative to get there?

    What am I missing here?(Other than any knowledge of the original? -and that I don’t want to know, not yet.) What is it exactly that everyone hates so much?

  • nyjm

    I’m a pretty patient watcher, especially if I’m generally a fan of the premise. Let’s be honest, the original “V” was not the greatest thing in Sci-Fi since Isaac Asimov. But it did manage to raise some interesting historical parallels with the German Occupation of France during WWII (and other occupations around the world since). But it also took the easy way out and solved all its problems with pretty blond people blowing things up.

    Science Fiction has an unparalleled potential to allegorize our world and allow us to talk about very important things. I’m hoping that the writers of “V” seek to make the most of this possibility. This first episode was rushed and thin, but it’s almost as if we’re getting the digest version of the original series: “Here it is, quick, quick, recognize this character? This relationship? Yup, move along, we’ve got more important things to do.” I’m hoping those “more important things” are forthcoming and – like BSG before and Stargate: Universe presently – seek to dismantle a simple Us-versus-Them dynamic and give us, the audience, something to intellectually chew on.

    Hope springs eternal. But I also have a power button on my remote and I’m never afraid to use it.

  • http://www.pghflicks.com Laurie Mann

    I thought the pilot was OK, but Flash Forward was so much stronger. The acting was also all over the place. I agree with the general attitude that there was too much going on in the first episode, but having some loud conspiracy theorists making noise well before there’s any real evidence that the V are evil would have worked much better.

  • allochthon

    I watched the original V, and I enjoyed this pilot. I think these criticisms are valid, but given the success of the BSG, Star Trek and Batman reboots, I’m willing to wait to see what they do with it.

    Also, I’ll give a lot of leeway to a show with a strong female lead.

    I was disappointed with what they did with Alan Tudyk. He’s *so* good, and his character was plain vanilla, even after the big reveal.

    I’m watching everything on Hulu these days, so for V I’m half a week behind.

    Mike, thanks for the link regarding Defying Gravity, I’d been wondering.

  • CB

    nyjm wrote:

    I’m a pretty patient watcher, especially if I’m generally a fan of the premise. Let’s be honest, the original “V” was not the greatest thing in Sci-Fi since Isaac Asimov. But it did manage to raise some interesting historical parallels with the German Occupation of France during WWII (and other occupations around the world since). But it also took the easy way out and solved all its problems with pretty blond people blowing things up.

    Again perfectly paralleling the German occupation of France! Waitaminute…