V pilot episode review

Ron checks out the first episode of the new take on V - and it's one impressive opening...

Wow. Just… wow. You know how some programs start off kind of slow and kind of ease you into the plot? Well, V doesn’t do that. In fact, I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited about a TV show, or this willing to sing its praises, since the premier of Deadwood (which I spent weeks annoying friends and family about). So, what’s the set-up?

V starts with one of the most impressively ominous cold openings I’ve seen on TV in quite some time, and it just keeps getting more and more interesting. The Visitor ships descend on 29 major cities around the world, including New York and Los Angeles, in a scene similar to the appearance of the alien crafts in Independence Day. However, when the ID ships opened up with death lasers, the V ships turn into gigantic televisions, broadcasting the first address of V leader Anna (Morena Baccarin from Firefly and Serenity).

The message? “We are of peace. Always.” People cheer. I mean, honestly, after the initial shock of the visitors landing and the first tentative steps to diplomacy, once they established they weren’t here to start melting our faces off with acid spit and laying eggs in our chest, the offer of superior alien technology and universal health care sounds pretty damn good, especially since they can cure a number of diseases we humans currently can’t. Combine that with Anna’s smooth-talking interviews with TV newscaster Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), and it’s no wonder that after three weeks people are lining up to visit the spectacular ships of the otherworldly Visitors.

This has the makings of some seriously good science-fiction television, but with enough other elements to keep non-sci-fi fans checking in. For example, there’s some good relationship drama between FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her son Tyler (Logan Huffman), who defies his mother’s wishes to become one of the first Peace Ambassadors due to his crush on alien hottie Lisa (Laura Vandervoort). There’s also some relationship rumblings between businessman Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) and Valerie Holt (Lourdes Benedicto), which fulfills our drama quotient and sets up nicely for some other subplots coming up.

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The majority of the opening episode is one guaranteed to win over the police procedural fans in the audience. Given that CSI and the like are the big shows on broadcast television, it’s only natural that some of those elements are worked into V, as Agent Evans and her partner Agent Maddox (Alan Tudyk, also from Serenity and Dollhouse) are in hot pursuit of a renegade terrorist cell. Unlike most terrorist groups, which slowed down or stopped their activities in the face of the Visitors appearance, this one picked up activity, as if preparing for an attack on the US, or some other defenseless group.

The FBI springs into action, tracking the active terrorist cell to an abandoned warehouse, where they find a tortured and mangled body. From there, it’s into a secret meeting where it is revealed that, perhaps, the aliens aren’t all they seem to be. Or perhaps that Internet hoaxes will stand the test of time and always reappear, no matter what they might be related to.

The chase and the terror cell subplot takes up a lot of the episode, and it’s really good television. The whole show is really good television, and it creates a whole lot of great questions about the relationship between the media and the people whom they cover, about the existence of aliens and how that might jibe with Catholic law and our current religions (carried by the character of Joel Gretsch’s Father Jack Landry), and of course, about how, when something is too good to be true, it probably is.

There’s a lot of bubbling politics that can be mined under the surface (the debates are already raging on the Internet not an hour after the show ended) for people on all sides of any issue, and that’s a sign of good writing (and a good way to keep everyone watching and talking).

Scott Peters, who previously did The 4400 and The Outer Limits, among other things, has really taken on a challenge here and has really excelled in making the new V not just a show about aliens, but a show about humans dealing with the presence of other life in the universe. Add in some great special effects, a killer cast, and very crisp directing by TV vet Yves Simoneau, and you’ve got yourself a really good pilot episode.

The only problem with such a great pilot episode is that the other episodes have to stack up to the high expectations. The first show went through a lot in a pretty short time, but it set up a whole lot more. I’m very interested in seeing where this is going, and I can only hope the rest of the show stands up to the debut.

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US correspondent Ron Hogan says, “Bring on the hottie alien reptiles!” Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.