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Published: Monday, 11/2/2009

Back to the future: ABC reworks 1980s' sci-fi miniseries 'V'

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

If you are of a certain age — in your 30s or older — odds are good you'll remember V, NBC's 1980s sci-fi saga about aliens who come to Earth promising peace. But as lizards in disguise, they're really keen on making humanity their food supply.

There have been a few attempts to revive V, originally an allegory for Nazis and the Holocaust, but ABC's remake is the first effort to actually make it out of development and onto a network schedule.

Against all the odds stacked against remakes, the new V, at 8 p.m. Tuesday on WTVG-TV, Channel 13, begins with an entertaining, well-made pilot that tweaks aspects of the original story but generally retains many of the show's familiar elements.

Giant flying saucer-like motherships descend over 29 of the world's largest cities, including Manhattan where the new V is set. The show introduces its characters by showing their reactions to this potential invasion.

FBI counterterrorist agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost), a single mother, immediately wonders where her son is. Turns out Tyler (Logan Huffman) has been out getting into scrapes, and he's likely to get in more trouble once he meets a few Visitors, aliens who look human and who are uniformly attractive.

TV news anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf, Party of Five) is showering after sex with the vice president's press secretary — the bimbo expects to get a one-on-one interview out of the one-night stand — and soon he'll find himself in even more dicey ethical circumstances when the leader of the Visitors, Anna (Morena Baccarin), offers him an exclusive interview with a last-minute stipulation.

“Just be sure not to ask anything that would portray us in a negative light,” Anna says, much to spineless Chad's discomfort.

Father Jack (Joel Gretsch) isn't comfortable with the alien arrival either, especially after the pope declares the Visitors are “all God's creatures.”

“Rattlesnakes are God's creatures, too,” Father Jack tells another priest, “Doesn't mean they're good for us.”

But the Vs, as they are sometimes called, sure seem helpful, offering to cure diseases and even provide universal health care in exchange for water. Once they get water, Anna says, “We will leave you, hopefully, better than we found you. We are of peace, always.”

Not everyone believes those promises and resistance efforts, which look like a terrorist cell to Erica, begin to spring up along with theories about the Visitors' true intentions, which appear to be different from their motivations in the original (humans may no longer be the aliens' Hamburger Helper in this remake).

The pilot, written by Scott Peters (The 4400), efficiently introduces the characters, conflicts, and story potential for subsequent episodes, which is why murmurs of discontent in the project are troubling. Following a production shutdown for creative retooling, ABC has decided to air just four V episodes this month with the promise of more to come in March, which is not the most positive sign that the success of the pilot will carry forward.

But the ingredients are certainly right. After her role as Juliet on Lost, it's tough to imagine another actress who balances empathy and brains as well as Mitchell, a smart choice for the lead hero of V. Gretsch offers solid support as a rock of a priest; actor Morris Chestnut intrigues as an engaged businessman with a secret past unbeknownst to his fiance, and Baccarin displays a scarily serene coolness that positions Anna as a formidable adversary to humankind.

Once again we have Visitors — time will tell if viewers and ABC executives welcome them with open arms.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com



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