V and V (2009)


V: The Mini-Series (1983)
V: The Final Battle (1984)
V: The Series (1984-1985)
V (2009)
Type: Series Revival

   Yikes. This will be hard to keep brief. The plot of V is complicated enough. The behind-the-scenes story might be even more complicated.

   V started as a two night, four hour mini-series written by Kenneth Johnson, who is responsible for 90% of the TV I watched growing up. It was a science fiction allegory for World War II, substituting sneaky aliens for Nazis.

   It all starts when aliens, The Visitors, show up and park giant spaceships over every major city on Earth. No worries though. They assure us they come in peace. Yeaaah... not so much. They look just like us and seem friendly. Only there are some differences. They have funny warbles to their voices that set them apart from us. Also, animals like birds and mice freak out around them. It also becomes clear they are proportionally stronger than us. They say they come to share scientific breakthroughs with us but, oddly, our scientists start disappearing. And some scientists who are critical of the visitors disappear and then reappear suddenly endorsing them.

   What is going on? Well, it turns out they are not "just like us". They are lizards dressed up in people suits. And they do want to give us advances in medicine because they really want us healthy to serve as slaves and food. They are taking people away to their home world for those purposes. And they can brainwash us. Oh, they are also taking all the planet's water. And conducting inhuman scientific experiments on us. But publicly, they are our buddies! That's why the scientists have to go. They are the one group of people that can expose the truth about them. Thus scientists and their families become the Jews in this tale, being rounded up and controlled "for their own good".

   The first mini-series is a solid piece of work detailing a group of people in L.A. forming a resistance movement to fight The Visitors, sent here by a charismatic leader who put his race on this path of evil and genocide. But they aren't inherently bad. There is a fifth column of Visitors fighting against what is going on. There are also human collaborators working with The Visitors, often even when they know The Visitors are no good. The Josef Mengele of the show, science officer Diana, also has set a plan in motion to have a Visitor impregnate a human. You know, for giggles.

   The first mini-series ends on a major plot point that ends up being ignored. Turns out there is another alien race out there that are enemies of The Visitors. With the thinking that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the first mini-series ends with The Resistance desperately sending an SOS out into space to the other alien race with no clue if this is really a good idea.

   The next year saw the story continue in a second three night mini-series called V: The Final Battle. It picked up the story a few months later. The new mini-series was based on scripts from original series creator Kenneth Johnson that were then, uh, tweaked by other writers. Tweaked hard. I'll get to that shortly. The heroes from the first series were all back: tough newsman Mike Donavan, young scientist Juliet Parish, streetwise Elias, Visitor turned rebel Willy, the Maxwell family - including the Visitor-impregnated Robin Maxwell. Also back was the evil alien Diana as well as Daniel Bernstein, one of the human turncoats who betrayed mankind to the visitors. The new character of Ham Tyler was also introduced. If Mike Donavan was the squeaky clean hero of the show, Ham was the darker antihero, the guy willing to do whatever it took to win the war.

   Ham Tyler is actually one of the changes that was made to the script. Originally Ham was supposed to be a parapalegic. That was his hook though: even in a wheelchair he was a badass. But that got changed.

   The second series main thrust is The Visitors trying to crush The Resistance as The Resistance tries to expose to the world the truth about The Visitors and force them off the Earth. Robin Maxwell's babies become key to all this. She has twins. One that looks like a Visitor lizard dies BUT its genetic makeup becomes key to creating a virus that is harmless to people but deadly to people... The Red Dust. If it can be spread over the world The Visitors will have to leave or die. Robin's other child, Elizabeth becomes the second key to victory. Being of two worlds, Elizabeth has "magical" powers. She is the Star Child. The show ends with The Visitors being forced from the Earth by the Red Dust and Diana taking vengeance by turning one of the mother ships into a nuclear weapon that will destroy the world. Only Elizabeth grabs the controls in the ship, magically glows, and stops the ship from going nuclear.

   Yeah. That stuff with Elizabeth being a magical Star Child? None of that was in Kenneth Johnson's original script. She was supposed to be a non-magical kid with a whole other story arc in store for her. But instead... magic baby. Another major change was with the fate of Visitor collaborator Daniel. As aired, The Resistance set Daniel up to take the fall for some trouble they caused, leaving him for The Visitors to take care of. Which they do. They, muhahahah, have Daniel over for lunch. Originally though Daniel was supposed to make it to the end of the mini-series, to the liberation of Earth, at which point he would find himself surrounded by a mob of humans who slowly move in him, now free to deal with collaborators on their own. For me, the latter ending leaves more to the imagination and is more chilling. What aired was wicked but also kind of jokey.

   The second mini-series did well enough that the network airing V, NBC, decided to make it a regular series. Despite more and more changes from the direction of the original series, it started out with some promise. A year after The Final Battle, Diana is being put on trial for her crimes (she is kept safe from the Red Dust). But things go wrong and she escapes. She doesn't choke on the Red Dust though. Turns out the Red Dust dies out in areas that don't have cold winters and it also turns out to be unhealthy for humans. So humanity can't keep using it and The Visitors can invade the temperate parts of the planet. Changes came too. With no explanation The Visitors no longer have different sounding voices. They sound like us, enabling them to infiltrate human society. Also, Star Child Elizabeth fast-aged into a young 20-something. The show started strong with active ongoing plots for The Resistance and The Visitors. But then things went sideways. Slowly but surely, likely to save costs, many of the major Resistance characters were killed or written off. Robinm Maxwell's dad died saving the world. Elias died trying to rescue his friends. Ham Tyler and his friend Chris left with Robin Maxwell to fight with the New York Resistance. In the end, The Resistance was just Mike Donavan, Juliet Parish, newcomer Kyle Bates (so far so good) magical Star Child Elizabeth, and Visitor Willy. See... no. Not strong enough. Elizabeth has powers but... that's too easy. Magic powers saving the day every week? Lame. And beyond the powers she was weird. She's a three year old in the body of an 18 year old so... I dunno. And then Kyle is dating her? He's dating someone who is emotionally and mentally a toddler? Yikes. And Willy is a likable character but he's also the goofy comic relief who can't speak English well. And he's a fifth of the Resistance?

   On top of downsizing the heroes, the show also changed it's formula. While The Visitors continued to have a Dynasty/Dallas power drama going on, the drama involving the main Visitor characters stopped interacting as much with the Resistance plots. And the Resistance storylines stopped being ongoing serials and became standalone stories where each week the main Resistance would hook up with a different resistance-group-of-the-week and help them with their specific problem. The story momentum of the show dragged to a halt. As a fan, when the show started I feared they'd make it that kind of a show. I was relieved they didn't go that way. Then, midway through the season when they did take that tact, I knew it was over.

   V: The Series lasted a single season. It ended with The Visitor's leader... called The Leader... coming to Earth for a visit. Somehow he had morphed from a charismatic but regular Visitor who manipulated his way into power into... a supernaturally powered force who apparently just didn't realize what he was doing on Earth was wrong? Realizing his mistake (?) he came to Earth to marry Elizabeth and declare peace. But as he and Elizabeth's shuttle took off, we learned Elizabeth's boyfriend Kyle had snuck onto the shuttle and that Diana, in an attempt to get the war going again, had put a bomb on the shuttle. But what happened next... no one knows. The show was cancelled.

   Supposedly, if the show had continued it was going to get a pretty big plot overhaul. It was going to end up being about Kyle and Elizabeth on the road trying to find a powerful Visitor artifact left on Earth centuries earlier. Diana would be in hot pursuit trying to get the artifact for The Visitors and capture Kyle and the Star Child. So it would be more of a chase show in line with The Fugitive or The Hulk (It would most strongly have resembled a short lived show called The Phoenix about an alien trying to find an ancient astronaut site where his sweetheart was buried while being pursued by government agents. Ironically that show starred Judson Scott who played Diana's right hand man on V). But no second season so...

   For a long time after its cancellation a number of people tried to revive V. There was talk of movies. One would follow Kyle and Elizabeth back to the Visitor home world. One would have dealt with life on Earth after the Visitor's left at the end of the series, with Visitors like Willy who were left behind choosing to stop wearing their fake human skins and how that would play out socially. Babylon 5 creator Joe Michael Straczynski worked on a revival of the show that never came to pass. Despite lots of ideas, there was no new V for quite a long time.

   Then, suddenly, V was back... and back. In 2008, Kenneth Johnson finally sat down and in book form put V back on the track he had originally intended. Ignoring everything but the original mini-series, V: The Second Generation picked up the story decades after the first series. The setting moved from L.A. to San Francisco. The Visitors had nearly drained our oceans. Star Child? No. In this world there are many half Visitor/half humans. They aren't magical. They're viewed by humans and aliens alike as hated half breeds. As in one of the proposed movies, many Visitors start walking around without their human disguises on. Mike Donavan has been missing for years. Juliet Parish fights on. The Visitors' leader is again more of a charismatic Hitler type (well, if Hitler was a hot babe) who is coming to visit Earth. And remember that SOS to the other aliens? They heard it. They're in play. The scientists-as-Jews plot is still going with them ghettoized and forced to work for The Visitors. While not perfect (the book reads, understandably given the author's background writing for TV and film, like a screenplay) the book is a solid read. If you can get me to shed a tear in a story about invading lizard aliens, you're doing something right.

   At around the same time, ABC announced they were adding a rebooted version of V to their schedule. The show would be a fresh start having no continuity with the original shows. All things considered that was probably a good idea. The new show took a cue from the successful reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Both took a real, serious, adult drama approach to the material. That's not to say the original V was not serious... at least not at the start. Both the new BSG and V also let the post 9-11 era influence the tone and outlook of the shows. If the original V was about WWII, the reboot took it's cues from the current world where the enemy could look just like us, even if under the surface they were very different.

   Once again The Visitors showed up offering us scientific goodies. Only this time, with voices just like ours, they had already infiltrated our society before they ever officially arrived. So it was harder for The Resistance to fight back. For example, if you're a cop, your boss or partner might be a Visitor. Going through channels with info might get you killed. And everyone was so convince The Visitors were good, saying otherwise even with proof might make you look like a paranoid or a hate monger. In this version Diana was replaced by Anna, the full-on leader of the invasion.

   The show started strong but didn't quite catch on in the way the original mini-series did. Kind of like trying to catch lightening in a bottle twice. And while they tried to take a tact similar to the new Battlestar Galactica, I think their cultural connection was mot as charged as BSG's. Battle Star tied right into the emotion rawness of a post 9-11 world. They started with the destruction of planets instead of the towers and had the emotional turmoil and paranoia of the aftermath to explore. V went only for the paranoia of the enemy among us. Powerful stuff but not in the same rip-your-heart out way.

   With ratings slumping the producers came up with a great idea to peak fan interest: bring back cast members from the original V. Jane Badler who played Diana in the original series was brought back to play... well... Diana. Not the same Diana though. This time she would play Diana, former Queen and Visitor High Commander, mother of the current visitor leader, Anna. Diana and Anna had a, uh, contentious relationship. Marc Singer who played Mike Donavan on the original series also returned in the second season finale as Lars Tremont, the leader of a top secret group of high powered individuals who don't trust The Visitors. Once again, though, we'll never discover how this Visitor invasion will turn out as, at the end of season 2, V was again cancelled.


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