Vintage Viewing: The Original ‘V’

ashley“It’s all right. They said they come in peace.”

– – –

I have been ridiculously excited for the premiere of the new V ever since I heard about it over a year ago. Mostly this is because of Elizabeth Mitchell being the best ever, but a lot of it also has to do with the science fiction thing. I am a sucker for that shit. I mean, life sucks, right? So let’s watch some beautiful people fighting some damn aliens or whatever.

c. 1983

But that’s tomorrow. Today we must travel back in time, to the land before the internet. Before the iPhone and personal computers, and yes, my friends, before the hair straightener. It’s 1983, and people be trippin’. Wait, that doesn’t come until 1992. V: The Original Miniseries premiered on May 1st and concluded on May 2nd in the spring of 1983. It was a success in all the ways that counted, and it spawned a sequel miniseries — V: The Final Battle, which aired in 1984 — and a short-lived and creatively disputed TV show. I say all this with great authority, even though I had yet to be born and was still an undeveloped ova inside of my mother’s ovary, because Wikipedia knows all.

In what ends up becoming a perfect warning of what is to come, V opens with this strange five minute montage of all the cast members, followed by an even stranger dedication, to all the “resistance fighters.” Like everything in the production, I’m sure this was well meant, but age has not treated it well. The story of V is a pretty original one. Alien visitors come to Earth professing peace and understanding, and seeking the help of us petty earthlings, but of course they’re hiding a secret nature underneath their human-like disguises. Basically they want to eat us up for dinner, but figure the best way to do that would be to lull us into a false sense of security and then pounce on us when we least suspect. All in all, not a bad idea. The fifty UFOs landing over well known cities and landmarks has of course been even further cemented into pop culture by movies like Independence Day, but V did it first. I don’t want to give away too much plot info if you plan on checking out this spectacular 80’s pop culture cheese landmark, but imagine 1984, plus Close Encounters of the Third Kind, plus NAZI Germany, and divided by V for Vendetta, and you’ll have something close to approximating the bizarre nature of V.

V does have other notable things to offer, like that classic TV moment when the true nature of the Visitors is revealed, guinea pig style, or all the random 80’s and 90’s TV stars who went nowhere, like Joanna Kerns (Carol Seaver, Growing Pains), William Russ (the dad from Boy Meets World), and Bonnie Bartlett, who has been among other things: Mark Greene’s mother on ER, Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother in Twins, Patience in the pilot of Firefly, and most recently in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that I don’t remember. That was one sentence, by the way. And don’t forget about Jane Badler, who played the evil Diana, but honestly is that really surprising? Who wants to hire a former guinea pig eating lizard face to be in their movie or TV show? Not I.

As I have said before, science fiction can be a great way to explore contemporary issues without incurring much damage, but this was the pre-Battlestar Galactica, pre-Firefly era. Hell, it was even pre-Next Generation. Actually, let’s call it a contemporary of the original BSG, and if you’re at all familiar with the original BSG, you know where I’m going with this. Neither show is exactly what you would call subtle, but that’s not really a criticism. Asking a 1980’s miniseries — science fiction, no less — to be subtle would be like asking a monkey to stop throwing its poop at you: they just don’t speak the language. And I like monkeys. In its not-so-subtle ways, V deals with totalitarianism, multi-culturalism, the Other, the uncanny, duality, genocide, and cultural relativism.

Of course, a lot of these themes are totally and completely undercut by things like: the marching band — the awful, awful! marching band — playing the theme from Star Wars for the Visitors; the characters living in Exposition town, Exposition mountain, Exposition city, which happens to be located in the country of Exposition; and some reeeahheally bad acting. For example, one of the supporting characters is an old Jewish man who escaped from NAZI Germany, and who can’t resist pointing out the similarities between the NAZIs and the V’s, and more importantly, between the people who refused to stand up for the unjust then, and now. He has the pointiest head EVER, but his point (ha) hits us over the head nowadays. I like my metaphors to be sidled up to and snuck around; V doesn’t beat around the bush. Pointy Head compares the supporters of the Visitors to Berlin 1938, when his son refuses to let refugees stay in their home. The moment almost doesn’t work at all, but the guy’s earnestness sells it: “They have to stay, or else we haven’t learned a thing.” That really sums up the whole thing.

Other Notable Moments:

  • “How many of them are there?”
  • Christine, the voice of the Visitors, has bad 80’s hair. BAD.
  • Bitter does not look good on you, joanna kerns, and what kind of argument to your ex is it when you start whining about him being famous with the aliens, and how can you compete? You shouldn’t have to compete, idiot. You’re his mother! Honestly.
  • “Damn scientists!” Sigh.
  • The brainwashing “conversion” process as a not so subtle metaphor for government propaganda.
  • Of course the nice lizard who doesn’t agree with her fellow Visitors is a sexy blonde in a small bikini set.
  • Alien impregnation. Enough said.
  • Why did people in the 80’s think that orange was a good sci fi color?
  • Lamest chase scene EVER.
  • Who gives a command like this? “Now we gotta save all the equipment in the building, okay?”
  • And yes, it is totally, totally possible to develop pregnancy symptoms after only four days.

Can’t wait for tomorrow. RIP Juliet Burke, long live Erica Evans.

6 Responses to “Vintage Viewing: The Original ‘V’”
  1. amorporchoco says:

    Pretty much nailed down my reaction – cheezy but with good themes (BTW – your V equation matched mine dead on). Sure, subtle wasn’t exactly what I would call it – for all the reasons you shared – but I actually enjoyed it. Was definitely doing other things at the same time, but enjoyed it. I found it interesting that originally V was a straight up political thriller and then Star Wars changed the game and Scifi came to play.

    Notable Moments:
    Umm, alien baby water breaking. Because what I want to see when I’m preggers by a lizard is the “ooze” that mutated the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come up of my va-jay-vaj.

    So excited for manana.

  2. Dan says:

    V was/is ridiculous in the way that only early ’80s TV sci-fi can be. I think your comparison to original recipe BSG is pretty spot-on. Allegories in ’80s sci-fi were not subtle. Subtlety hadn’t been invented yet.

  3. kat says:

    (1) i’m pretty sure the original V is why i am so ridiculously terrified of aliens; and

    (2) i for serious had a V-inspired dream the other night, complete with elizabeth mitchell!

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