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“V” vs. “The Event” and latex alien heads

March 8, 2011

I tried really hard to watch the “reboot” of “The Event” on NBC last night. The promotion they did before the show kept teasing us that all kinds of questions would be answered. Now, I know that’s never true in episode television. Still, I was hoping for something. Anything. I got…not much.

I tried to stay with it…I really did. I found myself distracted by old strips of Schlock Mercenary instead. (I’m into 2005, working my way through the strip.)

I get the impression that this is another television show that is supposed to be science fiction but is written by a team that really doesn’t know science fiction. That’s hardly uncommon in TV, but this could have been written about some kind of demonic fantasy – you know – vampires, or anything else that gives the writers the ability to make stuff up without justification.

One of the characters (the airplane pilot dude) tells his daughter he is from NGC something or other. NGC stands for New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars. That means the aliens are from not just another solar system, but from another galaxy. Fishier and fishier.

You see, we just went from maybe traveling a few tens of light years – a big enough feat as it is – to hundreds or thousands of light years. OK, they are from another galaxy, but they crashed here, and they look like us. Oh, and they launched a satellite to send a message home, or someplace. Now we can wait a couple of thousand years for help to come, because apparently the signal was sent in some part of the regular electromagnetic spectrum, limited to the speed of light.

Maybe they have ships hanging around in the Oort Cloud, waiting to hear from them. After sixty years, nobody came to look when they lost touch with them?

Every alien-type series or movie has the same inherent problem. What kind of aliens can (a) be communicated with easily enough for TV or film audiences, (b) can be represented in a reasonable way for people to understand and to some degree identify with, and (c) not break the bank. That’s why, even in these days of really outstanding CGI, we still get aliens that look like us. Stuff like “Avatar” takes time, and money, and lots of it. (Although this upcoming movie “Paul,” with a CGI gray alien played for laughs, might show what can be done for a reasonable cost.)

People have to understand aliens. Make them too hard to figure out and most people will reject them. That’s what we got in “Star Trek: Next Generation” and the other ST follow-ons: humans with latex heads. The alien races rarely even had the “alien-ness” of Muslim nations here on Earth. ST:NG tried, they did – but really what we got most of the time was still pretty close to Western behaviors and mind-sets.

That’s the failing of “The Event,” so far. The aliens aren’t alien enough, so it degenerates into soap opera.

Now, where is “V” – well, we know the aliens are big lizards under their skin. (In most cases, very attractive skin.) While on their ships, they are still always human-looking. Apparently that doesn’t bother them. I don’t know if I would want to look like some other kind of creature all the time.

Their motives are pretty clear, even if we don’t know all of their methods yet. The intricacies of the plot seem better drawn out, and interrelated. For example, while Anna is trying to maneuver a brash new TV newsperson into losing her credibility, she actually is working toward what the Fifth Column is trying to do without being aware of it. On the other hand, the aborted sabotage on the blue energy site by the Fifth Column worked to Anna’s advantage. That little bit right there is more clever than anything I saw in “The Event” – and you have to admit it’s not exactly ground-breaking narrative.

I thought “V” was going to crash and burn early on. I still don’t think it’s a five-season show. At least, it’s going somewhere now. That’s worth something.

There’s not a lot of alien-ness either…except for one thing: the entire plot is driven by the reproductive processes of the aliens. Are the aliens here because it’s their last hope as a species? They say so, but not to us. (But would we, to those we might be wanting to take a planet away from?) At least we have the motive of species survival driving the plot. While they still seem to be evil bastards from the stars, they are a bit more sympathetic.

Things that still creep me out: Christopher Shyer, who plays Marcus, Anna’s lieutenant. His head looks too big for his body. Jane Badler, Anna’s mother, Diana. She was scary in the first “V” and she’s pretty good as the sort of insane queen mum.

But don’t get me started on this “blue energy” thing.

And next week is the season finale, with the big Showdown of Lizard Queens…

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