Monday, November 16, 2009

Can we please talk about "V" and "Fringe"?

The rebooted "Battlestar Galactica" ruined me for new scifi in two ways: it started out so freakin' good, and it ended up so freakin' bad.

Since BSG, I inevitably end up comparing the first part of any new scifi series to that feeling of amazement and excitement I felt over the quality of BSG's beginnings -- and thanks to the horror that was its finale, I get to fear committing to any series that seems as if it might be good, because what if it takes me down the same path of heartbreak, where I have to pretend that an entire season didn't happen just to get by?

Which is why I've been late to start watching "Fringe" -- hello! season 2 -- and why I waited a couple of weeks to finally catch up on "V". (It might not hurt that the news that "Dollhouse" is cancelled came down last week -- I now have a slot open for disappointing scifi in my schedule.)

Oh, "V", "V", "V". You were my favorite in your original incarnation. I made my whole family watch you when you had been reduced to a series mostly about Robert Englund's mad affair with a lizard woman in a cave. (Why a cave? I can't remember.) It didn't hurt that you had the Beastmaster as your lead, though I would have recommended partnering him with some ferrets to really capitalize on his talents. And your cutting-edge 80s makeup effects! Lizard-eye contacts and plasticine skin suits, does anyone ever get tired of you? I do not.

And now "V" the reboot. At least you have the guts to be mostly dull and deeply cliche right off the bat. You're giving me lame terrorist cells now, not making me wait four seasons to listen to some nonsense about Mitochondrial Eve. You're stealing a page from the BSG book using some fabulous actors -- clearly, network folks have been reading my petition to have Alan Tudyk in every broadcast show -- and hey, how about that sly casting of a Cylon as a possible V? Nice. It's nice to see the guy from "The 4400" getting work -- even as a priest who is so clearly throwing over his religion for a chick. And Morris Chestnut, shirtless lizard? More please.

The casting directors are the smartest people on this show. All the cleverness seems to be confined there. It is only one step above your average ScyFy offering, because the actors are better than your average ScyFy thespians (yes, even Scott Wolf) and the special effects were clearly not created as cheap computer animation on the director's third cousin's computer (the shuttles are, admittedly, a little too "Welcome to Disneyland!" at this point, but maybe that was on purpose).

But even with the cleverness of the casting, even with players from a handful of other more successful scifi series, the scripts are not giving them a hell of a lot to do. There's not a scene that's more than three exchanges of dialogue long. And they're all the same scene. Get yourself a bingo card for each time the priest distrusts and then believes the other priest or the FBI agent tells her son not to get involved with the Vs, which causes him to moon over the photo of his V love interest in his camera phone. Variation? Nay. Emotional range? No opportunities allowed. (Chestnut does pull off some good conflicted longing, but I have a soft spot for him -- dude, he was totally gunned down in "Boyz 'N the Hood"! how can you not have a soft spot?)

Also, there are accusations that the show's being all hatey on Obama -- equating him with the invading reptiles providing horreur! horreur! universal healthcare. Having watched it, I can now tell you that I don't think it represents some concerted conservative viewpoint -- it represents a bunch of bad writers in a room pulling buzz words out of a hat and randomly applying them to a script. They might have thought they were being current and relevant -- and no, it's just sloppy.

So my point is, "V", you're clearly trying to BSG this one. You're not trying to embrace the cheese that was the original. The original was terrible, but it was GOOD terrible. It was quality terrible. It was terrible in an earnest way. My read is that you, "V" the reboot, are terrible in a bland, cynical way. You were sprung from the sentiment, What else are they going to watch? "Lost"? "Fastforward"? Please.

I say, watch "Fringe". And as I say that, I'd like you to adjust your expectations slightly. It is not the most robust scifi series out there. It owes a lot to -- let's call them "influences". But it's an entertaining weak, like "X-Files" weak. (Yes, I just called "X-Files" weak. It got by, ultimately, on a lot of not answering questions and then when it started answering questions, those answers were, in my subjective opinion, stupid.) It is certainly not as anemic as "V".

Fox has judiciously placed "Fringe" after my true addiction "Bones", so I've started watching a half-hour of it before my other true love, "30 Rock", is on. The test of a series's watchability is certainly whether, having watched part of an episode, I will make the effort to watch the rest. And "Fringe" two weeks ago began passing this test. Apparently, I only require that you come up with cool shadows from outerspace that turn folks into powder or scarrrry, red-headed, mind-controlling triplets in order for me to type your name into Hulu's search engine.

What else does "Fringe" have going for it? Emotion. Actual emotion. And in particular a father, who having screwed up raising his child, is now doing his best (his wacky, schizophrenic, genius best) to forge an adult relationship with him. I mean, where else have I seen a father being so vulnerable about his son on TV lately? (Also, the son is Joshua Jackson, and if you think that doesn't help, you're not paying attention.) Plus, the show has a strong female lead in Anna Torv, as competent and compelling as Scully, but she smiles a lot more.

I'm saying, "weak" has the potential to grow strong -- and "Fringe" is showing that. "Terrible" has the potential to make you take up hobbies that do not involve television.

And as Movieline so rightly put it, "never take your favorite sci-fi Fox program for granted."


Blogger tanita davis said...

Man, I am missing SO MUCH here with the non-US TV! Can you guess what I will be doing the many weeks I am home??

Oh, how well I remember the original V. And Beastmaster. Gosh, I hear Bad SciFi Night calling my name.


Mon Nov 16, 05:46:00 PM EST  
Blogger Seren said...

Ha! And here I am sad to be so distant from British TV. I'm sure I'm behind by about eleventy "Dr. Who" movies.

Beastmaster! Best movie featuring ferrets ever.

Mon Nov 16, 07:30:00 PM EST  

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