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Friday, February 18, 2011

V and the Decline of a Television Series – An Observation

V, starring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Morena Baccarin (Firefly) and many others, had a great first season. But somewhere between the first and the second, something went wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. The production team seemed to implode, and the second season became something to watch not because it was good, but because it was so bad as to be incomprehensible.

I have to give credit where credit is due, the second season made some great casting choices. Veteran character actor Oded Fehr, The Shield’s underrated Jay Karnes, even Bret Harrison from Reaper made an appearance. But even these great actors were unable to pull the series back from the precipice.

The problem stems indelibly from the writing. What was once engaging, if a bit outdated, storytelling has devolved into mindless cliché and plot contrivances. It’s as if the writers believe their audience has never watched another television show in their lives before. This is especially noticeably since one of the executive producers, Rockne S. O’Bannon, was once the showrunner for Farscape, one of the most creative and unique science fiction shows in recent memory.

The writing, of course, has lead to the acting to suffer as well. Morena Baccarin’s character, Anna (the V’s leader) went from a cold and calculating menace to a stereotypical bad guy. Even her scenes with Diana (Jane Badler, reprising her role from the 80’s series… sort of), while supposed to be menacing, are only funny due to the sheer silliness of the dialogue. Morris Chestnut, despite having one of the only emotionally engaging storylines remaining in the show, seems to have given up entirely.

The story suffers from a stubborn refusal to actually move anywhere. Anna’s right hand Marcus is assassinated? Well, not quite, since he’s still alive. And on top of that, he’s replaced by TOTALLY NOT MARCUS, I SWEAR Thomas, who, by the way, is exactly like Marcus. Joshua (played by voice actor Mark Hildreth, best known as Sten from Dragon Age: Origins), V ally of the Fifth Column – the anti-V resistance group – gets caught? Thanks to amnesia (!!!!), he’s back to being Anna’s loyal mook. Erica and the Fifth Column get a new ally? Dead three episodes later. While characters move back and forth on which side they’re on, no actual progress gets made.

The writers had the opportunity to do something different, too. This was probably the worst part, that instead of trying to tread new ground, they only decided to maintain the status quo. There was an episode during Season 2 in which the Catholic Church dared to stand up to Anna’s advances. This could have made a very interesting storyline; such a major organization like the Catholic Church allowing its priests to speak out against the Vs could have added some much-needed tension and drama. Instead, Anna just blackmails the church… and it works. They back down. Anna’s still the scariest one on the block.

The most recent episode as of the time of this writing (“Siege”) was so full of plot nonsense and cliché that I don’t even know where to begin. Erica and her ex-husband Joe (The X-Files’ Nicholas Lea) getting back together? Of course not. He dies. Fifth Column not-quite-terrorist and overall badass Eli Cohn (Oded Fehr) pulls out a picture of his dead wife and child? Anybody who’s ever watched an 80’s movie knows that’s the Kiss of Death right there. He dies. Erica suspected of working with the Fifth Column? A fancy plan involving a hostage situation “clears” her. No one questions this? No one knows that Diana, Anna’s mother and the former queen is still alive (why is she still alive?). Anna’s daughter Lisa (Smallville’s Laura Vandervoort) and Fifth Column ally just HAPPENS to walk by as Anna leaves the ship’s secret prison, giving her the opportunity to meet her grandmother.

Even Anna’s once-capable plans seem to be suffering. Ryan, played by Morris Chestnut, was a V sleeper agent living on earth who turned towards the Fifth Column. Having fathered a half-V child with a human woman, Anna takes the child hostage to use against Ryan, splitting his loyalties. Generally, this is a good plan. It worked against Jack Bauer just fine. But, when Ryan gets captured by Cohn, Anna pulls this tactic again with someone else entirely. Despite it being a good plan, doing it over and over makes for repetitive writing. Continuing the 24 analogy, Zeljko Ivanek’s character on the show said, “When plan A fails, you go to plan B, not plan A recycled.” Sound advice for any writer.

Joss Whedon once wrote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Unfortunately, the writers of V are doing just that. They write themselves in circles, ignoring the fact that what they’re doing now has already been done.  There’s a lot of flash, and nothing of substance anymore. What pains me is that this is a show I used to love. Now I can only hope that ABC puts it out of it’s misery.

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