TV Review: ABC's 'V' returns for Season 2
Alien drama offers plenty of distractions from its narrative wormhole
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This is not a spoiler, but in the season's third episode of "V," our intrepid human characters think they're uncovering part of what's motivating our new alien visitors. They have a long conversation involving DNA that goes beyond any sort of even rudimentary scientific logic. One character looks at the information at hand and asks how the ridiculousness could be possible.
Enter the helpful evolutionary biologist played by Bret Harrison and introduced in Tuesday's (Jan. 4) premiere.
"Of course it's not possible," he rants. "Neither are giant spaceships."
That tells you almost everything you need to know about the second season of "V."
[More after the break... with moderate spoilers...]
Harrison's character has been added to the cast for two apparent reasons: The first is to provide huge piles of exposition and scientific babble, explaining, justifying and contextualizing V involvement with humans. The second, as seen above, is to make it clear that absolutely nothing the character says is to be taken seriously or should be analyzed too closely, because at its heart, "V" is just a silly show about giant spaceships.
So if you're a fan of serious-minded science fiction, or of carefully crafted and considered storytelling of any genre, it's well past time to check out on "V."
Why would you even waste your time on a show that wastes *your* time on ponderous scientific and philosophic blather and then has the nerve to make it clear that any attempts to process or interpret that information is futile? The show stripped all political subtext out of the mix early in the first season, but now it's content to invalidate its surface text as well. Fair enough. What's the point in watching the show or writing about it? "V" isn't "Lost." Heck, "V" isn't even "FlashForward" or "The Event" when it comes to unfolding a mythology.
But if "V" has taken the intellectual component out of the equation in the early episodes of the second season, the show has most certainly amped up the visceral component and has taken steps to more effectively pander to fans of the original miniseries and series. I have no doubt that for a percentage of viewers, that substitution will be perfectly worthwhile.
"V" picks up its second season very soon after Anna's emotional (very un-V) decision to unleash Red Sky on the world. Red Sky, which is pretty literal, leads to Red Rain, which is equally literally and fairly evocative as an image. But what is Red Sky? What is Red Rain? And how will humanity react to weather conditions more Biblical than meteorological?
Don't worry. You find out fast. In lieu of actual answers to bigger questions that would propel the narrative forward, "V" has figured out how to give smaller answers to self-generated questions that would seem potentially to maybe be tied to bigger questions, but possibly not. So you'll find out what Red Sky is, or at least a superficial explanation. Don't worry.
You'll also get lots and lots of information about what the Vs are. None of that information will be fresh to you if you have any awareness of the original series, but fans who were frustrated by the full season the producers waited without going under the synthetic human flesh or the full season that passed without the Vs having a meal will be more than placated.
Because that's what "V" has become now, a show that substitutes effects-driven placation for narrative satisfaction. And that's probably OK, because I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you that the first three episodes don't deliver on effects-driven placation in spades. There's flesh, torture, rodent consumption and icky dreams aplenty on display in the early hours. You'll spend enough time going, "Ewww!" that you won't care about how little time is spent telling a story.
Rest assured that the story and logistics that are unfolding are every bit as irrelevant and silly as the line delivered by Harrison's character might indicate. Yes, it seems like the season's grand arc has been plucked from the "Bart Sells His Soul" episode of "The Simpsons," but what fan could quibble with the theological/pseudo-scientific goofiness of it all when the themes are co-introduced by Jane Badler? And what male viewer aged 18-34 is going to read to deeply into a tangential plotline that was designed to encourage Laura Vandervoort to disrobe whenever possible? "V" has discovered that misdirection requires only shiny objects, gooey creature effects, an original "V" star or Supergirl in a bra and panties.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
Badler doesn't arrive until the end of the first episode, which I'd feel guilty about spoiling, except for two things: People who weren't fans of the original won't have a clue who Jane Badler is and ABC has been aggressively trumpeting Badler's involvement at fan forums like Comic-Con. She's actually a fine addition to the cast, because she looks great and she has some great scenery-chewing showdowns with the excellent Morena Baccarin's Anna, in which both actresses treat the flimsy prose like Shakespeare.
Harrison is a less effective addition to the cast. I loved "The Loop." I loved "Reaper." I'm looking forward to FOX's April comedy "Breaking In." But Harrison has a specific acting style. He's relaxed, funny and prone to playing beats broadly. That makes him an asset on any show that values comedy or at least has an environment amenable to levity. "V" is a vacuum, a place laughter goes to die. Even terrific actors like Elizabeth Mitchell and versatile actors like Scott Wolf and Joel Gretsch have been rendered bloodless and wooden by the show's prevailing tone. Introducing a different voice like Harrison's doesn't open up the tone of the show. It only makes every other performance around Harrison's look even more wooden, which is impressive when you see that Charles Mesure and Morris Chestnut can be made to look even less emotive (as always, the less said about Logan Huffman and the increasingly important Tyler, the better).
I know "V" doesn't want to give away the store, but I still insist there are ways that the series could have a cohesive through-line beyond "The Vs are bad and The Five Column is good." The show could establish a clearer sense of what the Vs want and, more importantly, when they want it so that the Fifth Column wasn't just futzing around with so little urgency. As it stands, they have a really small resistance group that isn't growing and its smallness doesn't matter, because we don't know what they're trying to accomplish or when. I can only wonder so many times if Scott Wolf's character is a self-centered ass or a duplicitous self-centered ass before I check out.
But pay no attention! Badler! Lizards! VANDERVOORT!
"V" returns to ABC on Tuesday night.