I ♥ V.
The buttons were all over San Diego when I arrived in the city on Friday, peppered on the jackets and blouses of people walking the streets in the Gaslamp District. I have to admit, at first I had no idea what it was about. All I could come up with was that they were professing their love for the illegal, if fictional, practice of getting high on vampire blood, True Blood-style.
Saturday’s panel for V, therefore, proved enlightening. Airing on ABC in 2010, V is a new show based on the classic 1983 miniseries of the same name. Starring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) as Erica Evans, an FBI agent in the counterterrorism division, it asks what would happen if, in a time of turmoil, a fleet of elegant aliens arrived, bearing promises they could make everything better? Who would you trust? What risks would you take? And what would happen if, perhaps inevitably, these so-called Visitors prove less than noble in their intentions?
It’s become common practice in the last few years for upcoming shows to premiere at Comic Con, screening pilots so that, when the show finally airs, it has a ready-waiting fan base who’ll hopefully have used word of mouth — or Twitter — to build up anticipation. Of course, with a poorly-prepared pilot, this is a gamble sure to backfire. The producers of V, however, don’t have anything to worry about. Reception of the pilot was wildly enthusiastic, gasps, laughs and cheers sounding in all the right places, the audience breaking into applause at the first glimpse of Morena Baccarin, even at the mere sight of Alan Tudyk‘s name in the credits.
While the show certainly has its share of flaws, it more than makes up for these with a talented cast, a fascinating premise and a starkly beautiful look. Set largely in New York City, as these things almost always seem to be, it escapes the curse of much of genre television, which is to say, it doesn’t look like something you might see on the newly- and poorly-renamed SyFy channel. The sets are beautiful and the spaceships, will still pointedly unreal, don’t look shoddily fake either.
Morena Baccarin (Firefly) strikes a masterful balance as Anna, the leader of the self-called Visitors, known as the V for short. With her soft, even voice, she is at once beautiful and eerie, her calm as inviting as it is offputting. Never once speaking a harsh word or raising her voice, Baccarin nevertheless possesses precisely the deft touch required to switch from peaceful to threatening without so much as changing her tone.
It’s Elizabeth Mitchell’s Erica Evans who steals the show, however. Within the first minutes of V, Mitchell had me pulled in, so utterly immersed in her character as to make every moment, every line, not merely believable but compelling. I look forward to seeing her play off Joel Gretsch (The 4400), whose Father Jack Landry is instinctively — and rightfully — wary of the Visitors from the moment their ships move into place over twenty-nine of the world’s major cities. Although Gretsch maintained a strong presence throughout, he didn’t capture me as wholly as his two female co-stars or Scott Wolf (Everwood), whose Chad Decker is a deliciously ambiguous reporter wrestling with his conscience and his ambitions.
Rounding out the cast are Morris Chestnut and Logan Huffman. Morris Chestnut provides a much-needed part in the role of Ryan Nichols, himself one of the Visitors, the sole Visitor shown to seem entirely sympathetic, saving the show’s writers from the looming fate of falling into the easy dichotomy of aliens bad, humans good. Although Logan Huffman is likable as Tyler, Erica Evans’ son, the part given him to play — he is lured into loving the Visitors as much because he met a beautiful V girl as because his mother refuses to trust them — is painfully predictable. He acts his heart out and that covers a lot, but it can’t make up for everything. Likewise, Lourdes Benedicto‘s Valerine Holt seems to serve no other purpose than being Ryan’s girlfriend and speaking entirely in clichés. The trite dialogue given to her is even more obvious in the midst of such stellar performances.
Every pilot has its flaws. In order to pull an audience in fast and keep them watching, television writers will almost always rely on obvious tropes. It’s a useful way to get the message across fast, often an effective necessity, but it’s also something they absolutely have to watch in episodes to come. The show is packed with potential. Unfortunately, it’s potential as much for pitfalls as anything else. If they don’t resist the urge, as the series continues, to rely on trite dialogue and sharp black-and-white dichotomies, it could get tired fast. Judging by the turns taken and the stellar cast, however, I suspect they’ll be properly on track quickly. Until they prove me wrong on that score, I think it’s safe to say, I already love V.