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V: The Final Insult

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Mike Cohen
V: The Final Insult
on Nov 16, 2009 at 12:17:46 am

I like many remember the V mini-series in the early 80's as a great way to spend time in front of the tube. It was ahead of its time and well crafted sci-fi-lite drama for the masses. In short, giant spaceships appeared over the Earth, specifically over LA. The aliens offered medical cures to humans, but had (surprise) a secret agenda. A resistance comprised of a news photog (the early inspiration for my video career perhaps?) and the fearless staple of the 1980's, Michael Ironside, not to mention Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund as a turncoat alien, figured out the conspiracy and started developing a weapon that could kill our new friends. The resistance spray painted the letter "V" as graffiti, indicating "victory" over the aliens. And there were laser guns, cool uniforms, shuttlecraft and did I mention laser guns?

Fast forward to 2009. Since there have been no movies or tv shows featuring large spaceships hovering over world capitals in the past 30 years, ABC felt the need to repeat the magic for us. Great thinking! However the self proclaimed "Visitors" immediately and without explanation adopted the moniker "V" or "the V's" and the spraypainted letters (now called tagging apparently) are supposed to show how easily the youth of the world have been brainwashed by the bad guys. Not sure why we never see Washington DC or the President, who is usually at the center of any alien invasion. And time moves awfully quickly, so we don't really get a sense of the actual reaction of people to the events. Seems a bit rushed.

The heroes this time around are the kid from Party of Five who still looks like a kid, playing a Anderson Cooper wanna be, a priest, a turncoat alien family man who looks and talks a lot like characters from Dexter and Terminator, and a hot female FBI agent, who looks a lot like the hot female FBI agent from Fringe. Only trouble is, the pilot episode revealed most of the conspiracies and plot lines for the series far too quickly, explained in brief scenes of boring dialogue. If the series follows the original, then there are a few more plot points left to reveal, which should not come as a surprise to those under 35 who missed the original.

And get this, a reporter actually asked Obama's press secretary if the President had seen the pilot episode (this is in real life, not the tv show) because there was one throwaway line about universal healthcare. Seriously, if a show is going to try to be topical, it should be a bit more subtle.

Despite all of the above negativity, I am going to give this show a chance, for as long as it lasts. It can go one of two ways - Warehouse 13 (every week is the same with weak writing and acting) or Battlestar Galactica (sophisticated space drama but difficult to match).

Mike Cohen

Needless to say, the visuals of spaceships floating above NY, shuttle craft zipping over head and the inside of the mothership are stunning. But as has been discussed so many times here and elsewhere, stunning visuals are cool but cannot carry weak acting and/or mediocre writing.

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Tim Wilson
Re: V: The Final Insult
on Nov 16, 2009 at 2:22:36 am

I love you man, but some drive-by replies.

[Mike Cohen] "Since there have been no movies or tv shows featuring large spaceships hovering over world capitals in the past 30 years, ABC felt the need to repeat the magic for us. Great thinking"

I assume you're being sarcastic, right? cf, Independence Day. There are a LOT of ID4 (remember that?) references all through this thing.

[Mike Cohen] "the spraypainted letters (now called tagging apparently)"

Also sarcastic? The phrase "tagging" goes back to at least 1973, with Jon Naar's The Faith of Graffiti, absolutely stunning both photographically, and its literal statement of faith about the spontaneous combustion of creativity, protest, and the poles of community and independence. Tagging was the name given for individual signatures on works of art, as well as territorial designations. More recently, "Tag Town: The Evolution of Graffiti Writing" serves as a solid historical overview.

(There were obvious age and class distinctions here, as well as obvious correlations with other kinds of crime. Among the people who first and hardest fought it were the grown-ups in the same neighborhoods that their kids were painting. Check out Malcolm Gladwell's chapter on graffiti in The Tipping Point - a careful and persuasive argument that getting rid of graffiti on subway cars was the first, pivotal step - the tipping point - to New York's renaissance in the 90s.)

The first great artistic documentation of graffiti Nair's was 1984's "Subway Art." This was beyond tagging - it was large scale, sophisticated public art. Check out the 25th anniversary of Subway Art ($40 list, $27 at Amazon), or any other of the picture books. Inspiring stuff.

I was working at a bookstore in Baltimore, at the time a strongly African American community - I assume it still is - and according to the most recent census at the time, my own neighborhood was 98% black. (John Waters lived in my building! We shared an elevator now and again. He did his own laundry in the common laundry room in the basement. There were at one time signs all over the lobby seeking dancers for a movie - the original Hairspray.)

I can tell you that Subway Art was absolutely electrifying, and when it came out in paperback in 1988, it exploded. One of the cool parts about Baltimore then (again, I haven't been back in 20 years) is that people of color were in every economic stratum, and I assure you that well-to-do, educated readers were buying the book far more than youth - not surprising given the nature of bookbuyers. And once they saw the book in paperback, they special ordered the hardcover, around $50. This was a big, big deal.

Although it goes back much further, and was, and to an extent still is, a global phenomenon (remember the Berlin Wall?) modern tagging's roots, and the name tagging, are of course almost exclusively in New York, hence the name Tag Town.

[Mike Cohen] "Not sure why we never see Washington DC or the President, who is usually at the center of any alien invasion"

Sorry dude, the best alien invasions are always centered in New York, the capital of the entire universe. The president always shows up late.

This version of V is also set in New York - see the warehouse scene from the pilot set in Brooklyn, and ship anchored just above the Empire State building.

In the original, the first of 50 ships revealed itself over the United Nations building in New York. The Empire State building is much cooler.

Independence Day, on the other hand, was centered in LA, although the guy who figured the whole thing out (Jeff Goldblum) was in....New York.

(Watch it again - although it was set in 1996, there are some hilarious Mac graphics that look more like 1986...although they weren't.)

[Mike Cohen] "Seems a bit rushed."

A common criticism from people who saw the original, which I didn't until later...and found it glacial. I like this pace.

[Mike Cohen] "the pilot episode revealed most of the conspiracies and plot lines for the series far too quickly, explained in brief scenes of boring dialogue"

All that has been revealed so far is the plot points from the original. ABC has been playing with this for a while - check out Fast Forward if you haven't. A much better show (so far anyway), based on a not-very-long book. It has already taken some twists not found in the book -- the thing is that even a 13 week run is far, far longer than book length, and Fast Forward's back 9 has already been picked up.

Ditto this version of V. Don't forget, the original was 2 episodes, around 200 minutes total. The sequel was 3 episodes. Yeah, there was a series, but it was a bit of a mess. Buckle up - this is just getting started. Major plot points are still a long way off.

[Mike Cohen] "a hot female FBI agent, who looks a lot like the hot female FBI agent from Fringe."

No, she looks like the hot prisoner of the island on Lost. Which she was. Is - she'll drop off of V for a few weeks while she wraps up her last 3 eps of Lost. One of the best shows in the history of televison. Elizabeth Mitchell's character emerged as one of the pivots of last season - truly moving stuff, for both love and joy, and later, of heartbreak at the end/beginning of time.

And which ABC feels (rightly, I think) lost much of its audience over how slowly the mythology unfolded. I like it, mind you, and think this past season was OUTRAGEOUSLY good...but I get their point. The people spoke, and they want stories that unfold faster.

As much as the seasons-long pace is working for me for Lost, that's much richer stuff. This is lighter, and I want it moving fast.

BTW, Fringe? Love that thang. Starring the much younger Anna Torv. (From Oz - very convincing American accent.) Set in Boston, not New York...although many of the coolest episodes, including the mind-fork of a finale, are set in NY. This season is wonderful, and after a caesura this week, is about to turn into some wild stuff from here. I love that we know key things about a character that has stepped into the spotlight that he doesn't know about himself. Glorious tension.

[Mike Cohen] "Warehouse 13 (every week is the same with weak writing and acting)"

In which I am revealed for the shallow batard (the French word) that I am. I love this show, to me, very much the sci-fi lite that you call the first V, although unlike that, entirely played for laughs. What can I say? I like comedies, I like sci-fi, and I like this.

Seriously though, check out Fast Forward if you haven't. Catch up on Hulu while you still can.

Fringe rawks.

V ain't art, but it ain't bad. So far. We'll see.

Your pal,

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Mark Suszko
Re: V: The Final Insult
on Nov 16, 2009 at 4:28:22 am

The Director's cut of the opening scene:


I remember the original, on NBC, was an allegory about the rise of nazism. This version is said by some pundits to be a take on the Obama administration as seen thru the eyes of 9-11 truthers and black helicopter conspiracy theorists, where a charismatic but enigmatic leader seeks power thru subversion and guile. That's a very old plot, and you can find many examples of it thru movie and TV history. I just don't think the scripts or plot are very well thought-out. The scripts in the original mini-series were poor as well, but we paid less attention to that because the hot alien leader had a distending jaw and swallowed gerbils whole, like a snake, and the special effects were coooool.

The other thing I remember the original for was that it was doing a very early version of what we now call "viral marketing". I remember riding the Chicago Ave. subway to and from college and seeing these posters pop up one week, of enigmatic-looking people in sunglasses and odd jumpsuits, and the posters only said: "The Visitors are our Friends" and "Friendship is Universal". We were all like: "wha? (shrug)." Then, a few weeks later, the posters all suddenly have big "V"'s spray-painted across them, and the collective reaction on the subway was "goddamn graffiti kids, this is why we can't have nice things, look what a pit they made of New York". Only then did the commercials for the show start to get aired in town, and it all began to fit together.

I'm DVR-ing the remake of The Prisoner tonight, but can't comment as I haven't viewed it yet, got an early call and a 4-hour drive to get to it tomorrow, but will start a thread about that later this week unless one of you beat me to it.

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Mike Cohen
Re: V: The Final Insult
on Nov 16, 2009 at 7:02:24 pm

Putting aside the notion that this is a remake, but rather an original story inspired by the original, it might just work. Presumably the target audience are people younger than me who have not seen the original. I think when a new movie or show comes along, with the same name and premise as a previous version, one cannot help but jump to the conclusion that it is a remake and immediately judge one against the other.

But with the success of Battlestar Galactica, I think that has become the new model for remake, aka, re-invention.

My mind is open.

Re: Tagging. Tim, you demonstrate once again that we can learn new things about much more than just film and television here.

Mike Cohen

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Bob Cole
Tim's from Baltimore?
on Dec 19, 2009 at 7:33:19 pm

[Tim Wilson] "I was working at a bookstore in Baltimore...John Waters lived in my building!...(again, I haven't been back in 20 years)...."

My hometown. Your points about the African American community are spot on. You should visit again. The elements that Waters celebrated, like "high hair" and "hon," became so "in" they're out, even with Waters. It's a great town for drama, thanks to the strong identity of individual neighborhoods. (Check out the East Side vs. West Side drug dealers in The Wire - quite funny, just like two snotty suburban high school rivals.) There's a good community of young artists with an "outsider" esthetic, which is quite in keeping with the town's literary heritage and self-image of rebels and innovators like Poe and Mencken.

On the negative side, the Baltimore Sun's glory years are fading into the past, though there is a movement to buy it and run it as a non-profit. The State of Maryland has for some crazy reason lost interest in attracting feature film production here, so that has dropped off a cliff. Maybe Gov. O'Malley didn't like the way he was portrayed in The Wire.

Your bookstore is probably gone. But the city has worked on a "digital harbor" development theme, and there are actually quite a few Internet businesses.

Bob C

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Tim Wilson
Re: Tim's from Baltimore?
on Dec 19, 2009 at 11:55:37 pm

My wife and I lived in Baltimore from 85-89 while my wife was doing post-grad research and teaching at Johns Hopkins. Before I worked in a bookstore, I was teaching pre-schoolers. Another story....

We were mostly on Reservoir Hill - in one of those 3 tall apartment buildings right across from Druid Hill Park. They were prominently featured in one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. :-) But if you've ever been to the park or the zoo, you know which ones I mean. We were on the 13th floor of the tallest one, and even though it was miles away, we could see past the other side of the harbor. Awesome.

Over 2000 square feet, 12 foot ceilings, hand-laid parquet floors, a doorman...for $500/month! Utilities included! That was jaw-droppingly cheap even at the time. Serious renovations had been done, in advance of upward mobility that was really just getting underway as we left. There were no grants or tax incentives, and it wasn't motivated by any particularly dire straits (at least not in that neighborhood...different story nearby) - people were just making things better because they wanted to. It was a really special time.

(We also lived briefly

Even though we've moved an embarrassing number of times since then, this was one of our absolute favorites. It's been fun to have an excuse to remember it.

Are you still in Baltimore, Bob?

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Jason Jenkins
Re: V: The Final Insult
on Dec 3, 2009 at 12:53:16 am

I well remember when the original V came out. My brother and I were awestruck by the laser guns. People actually got hit with lasers! We were so used to the A-Team where they were constantly firing automatic weapons at each other from 20 feet away –and hitting nothing but dirt. I don't watch any TV anymore so I can't comment on the new V, but there is no way it could be as good as my memories of the original. Another of my 80's favorites was Sledgehammer. Anyone else remember that?

Jason Jenkins

Flowmotion Media

Video production... with style!

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