With the new year all rung in, I thought it was time to fire up the blog and start talking about science fiction on television again. Happy new year!
But why stick with TV? A number of things happened last year that forced me to think more broadly about science fiction. I attended the Clarion West program here in Seattle, where I made a whole lot of new friends in the scifi community. I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, where I made even more friends in the scifi community. Most of these people are fiction writers. All of them blew my mind. I’m reading more. I took a class with Nancy Kress. I have a broader knowledge of scifi trends.
So last year, the reboot of the classic 80s hit “V” was launched. I didn’t watch it then because I have this habit of wanting to watch something from the very beginning – in this case, I wanted to watch the original “V” from the mid-80s. I didn’t see it the first time around. (Or if I did, I don’t remember watching.) I keep trying to think back to that time: I would have been in my last year of high school, doing god knows what on the weekends. Stuff I wouldn’t want my mom to know. I have this vague recollection of seeing the ads on TV, but we didn’t have a VCR at the time, so no way of recording it. I would have had to make sure I was stationed in front of the TV on the nights it aired.
There was the first two-part miniseries. Then there was the three-part followup. Then there was the full-on series, which debuted about the time I started college. All of these replayed over the past year on Syfy and I sat down to watch the entire thing, beginning to end, before starting on the reboot.
I have to say, it was rather painful. I know this series is considered one of the top scifi series of all time, but WOW – by today’s standards, it’s hard to watch. The production value was good at the time (and the special effects still hold up, to some degree), and the acting is fair, but it’s the writing that gets to me.
Slowly but surely, the story went from good to terrible to ridiculous. The first two miniseries weren’t all that bad, in fact, and I thought they were handled well. I liked the Mike Donovan character, a cameraman-turned-revolutionary who helps turn the Visitors away, and the resistance leader Julie. I also liked Robin’s story, in which she turns from a doe-eyed girl to suspicious mother of the star child.
But then it became a regular series. As is always the case with a serial story, you have to figure out how to keep it interesting week after week, finding new stories. And hiring good writers.
And here’s where the trouble begins.
How do you make a revolution story interesting? I don’t think the writers on the series ever figured it out. You have the paradigm: the Visitors as the subjugating race, and the revolutionaries who are fighting back. That’s your framework. Within it, there are hundreds of stories to explore. They did so, to some degree (a young Robert Englund [of Freddie Krueger fame] played a visitor-turned-revolutionary, although his penchant for using the wrong English word grew WAY too thin), but rarely stepped outside of the “I see Visitors, let’s shoot them” motif. It slowly turned into bad 70s television where the revolutionaries would mow down the Visitors with their guns, but the Visitors, no matter how many laser shots they fired, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
I found myself fast forwarding through some of the later episodes. Little things were unwatchable. Diana and Lydia having verbal catfights. One time they had an old fashioned Star Trek hand-to-hand combat fight that went nowhere. Which one of them was in charge? They were constantly backbiting and snippy to each other, giving orders and telling the other what to do. And from time to time someone entirely new was put in charge of them both, most of the time a man. (Charles, in later episodes.) Robin, who was so interesting early on, later becomes a rival in her daughter’s love life because one day she just woke up and decided she was in love with her daughter’s boyfriend? Huh?
Things got REALLY ridiculous when Charles announced his plan to get rid of Lydia: marry her. In this convoluted plot, she would be unable to refuse him and be sent back to the home planet where she would be forced to bear his children!
Really?? That’s your story?? Was there a writers strike that week?? I guess throwing her out of an airlock would have been too easy!
The line that had me busting a gut was a few episodes later when – while on a farm – one of the minor characters ran out of a farmhouse, shotgun in hand, and yelled “Put your hands in the air or I’ll fill you so full of lead you’ll think you was a pencil!”
It was a sad, sad ending to what started out so promising. I noticed that certain actors slowly disappeared. One of them was unceremoniously vaporized in the middle of the street. Another one went off to another “camp” or something. Ham, the Michael Ironside character. Despite his one-dimensional character, he was my favorite on the show. He still does great work. But did these actors leave the show because they saw the writing on the wall? Or lack thereof?
Interesting to note in Wikipedia (yes, a rock solid source) that series creator Kenneth Johnson left the show during “The Final Battle” due to creative differences. That means he wasn’t involved at all with the weekly series. (Nor is he involved with the new one.) There’s something to be said for the source of inspiration leaving a show.
After finishing the original series up, I watched the pilot of the new one. Very promising. Visually, it looks good and the characters could be interesting. (Too early to tell.) My one nitpick is that there’s a little too much feel-goodness to it. Two of the women served up the line “Talk to me, baby” line which always makes me want to gag and feel for the fast forward button. My finger is generally poised over the fast forward button on any given show. And the V leader! She looks great, she looks hot, but doesn’t she have anything to do? Why is she just standing around all the time, staring at men or out windows?
“V” looks intriguing and I’ll be diving in as soon as the disc comes from Netflix.