Friday, January 7, 2011

TV Episode Review: V “Red Rain”

It’s too early to be certain, but I think V’s producers and writers may have had an important come-to-Jesus moment during the off season.  The show’s first season was a near-perfect storm of awfulness:  poor casting (Tyler is easily the most unlikeable teenage character in modern prime time television—and he isn’t written to be that way) terrible dialogue and plotting, unimaginative set design, poor CGI, and a lot of build up to no satisfying payoff (I don’t care about Anna’s kids, I wanted to see a V in its exposed form).  That’s a lot to fix, even with a long summer and fall to grind away at things, but I have to give V some credit for returning with something of a smashmouth attitude for the season’s premiere.

“Red Rain” certainly had no interest in slow-burning any of its storylines.  The red clouds deliver their ominous payload in the first half of the episode, we discover that the Vs have been here before and apparently wreaked other havoc, we witness Tyler’s face melting off like he looked into the Ark of the Covenant (which that kid would totally do—he’s such a self-righteous little goon), we get a look at a preserved V skeleton, we discover that some of Anna’s soldier babies survived, and that she will kill them just to be rid of those rascally things the humans call “emotions”, Ryan gets a look at his grotesque hybrid child swimming around in a Bacta Tank, and we get what we (I) have been waiting for all along:  the forced removal of the human suit from a V to reveal their true form, at least a little bit more than we saw last season.  That’s a LOT of creamy middle for a Twinkie of a show like this. 
Alas, it was only a dream.  Still, it was wonderful for a moment, wasn't it?

So the question becomes whether the writers have rethought their approach to the materials and realized that, at their very best, they will only be putting out B-movie type material with this show and so they might as well go for broke with the violence and gore (Anna’s spiked dragon tail looked pretty silly, but respect the show for dragging out a scene where a V is endlessly bludgeoned, splattering blood on the faces of everyone around him, complete with grisly sound effects way past the point where most viewers would say “okay, I get it” and then has half of his human face off just to scrape the icing off the cake, so to speak).  If the writers have, in fact, chosen this route, this show might become the kind of appointment television it tried to be through a different route last season.  For those with short memories, it failed.  They may have just wanted to come back with a bang, but this episode seemed to represent a shift in tone for the show towards reckless mayhem and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plot twists (phosphorous is raining on everything to impregnate all the humans and Anna calms their nerves by explaining that the Vs just decided to fix global warming by coating the Earth with a substance no one knows anything about?  Tell me without laughing that the writers don’t know what direction they’re taking this show.). 

I suppose the coming weeks will reveal quickly whether they’ve really changed the show’s paradigm, but there’s much to be discussed about this episode in the mean time.  I like that the show chose to open with its bread and butter—it excels, for whatever reason, at capturing great looking shots of the V ships hovering over cityscapes.  I know that’s like claiming that a single Saltine cracker constitutes “bread and butter” but hey, they do it well.  The opening shot (which turned out—obviously—to be a dream sequence) revealed the ominous ship hovering over an apocalypted (new verb—take notes urban dictionary) street where cars seem to have been parked hastily at odd angles so everyone could get out of them and lay down on the ground in uncomfortable positions.  And everything is bathed in an unpleasantly bloody redness.  It didn’t look real, but it had a certain look to it that certainly garnered attention.

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode mostly fell into the bad habits the writers on this show refuse to break.  The dialogue was as utilitarian as ever.  If you’d like to audition to write for the show, just make your script conveys simple plot points and unneeded observations clearly and repeadetly.  Like so:

Erica:  I have to get in there to get the information we need to continue to defend the 5th column, which of course is the only hope to stop the Vs.
Ryan:  It could be dangerous.  You should be careful and take a weapon with you.
Hobbes:  I will stay out here because there could also be danger out here.
Father Landry:  We have to hurry.  There is a time limit on how long we have to accomplish our task.
Music Score:  ominous, ominous, ominous, ominous, ominous, violin crescendo into commercial annnnnd CUT.

I think I may have actually plagiarized some actual lines from “Red Rain” in there, so hopefully I’m not violating copyright law.  The show becomes exhausting as it beats us over the head with plot points and character development thrown at us sloppily and repeatedly with dialogue.  Tonight’s most laughable moment (if not the above scene when they go to visit Dr. Watts) would probably be Ryan’s standoff with Anna when he declares that his motives are “Something you’ll never understand…LOVE!”  Good Lord, does this really allow you to hold down a writing job in television?  I deleted several more lines of sarcasm here in the name of professionalism, but suffice to say I’m genuinely appalled by the quality of the screenwriters here. 

The rest of this episode is comprised of one ridiculously foolish reveal after another; the biggest being the revelation that some researcher who looks too young to pledge a fraternity has actually been hiding his super-secret research lab containing a mostly-intact V skeleton inside of a public university in the middle of a big city.  Makes a ton of sense.  Disregarding completely that he has managed to be the only person to enter this giant laboratory at a university for years, I’m charmed stupid by the idea that this guy made a discovery unparalleled in the history of modern anthropology, biology, or other X-ology, (where “X” represents anything you can study scientifically) and he just locked it up in a lab because he couldn’t figure out what the frakkin’ thing was.  The presence of the wholly-non threatening looking skeleton does allow for Erica to deliver the episode’s most melodramatic moment when they wonder aloud why the Vs would release phosphorous into the air.  “For breeding,” she murmurs breathlessly as she stares with horror at the skeleton’s jawless face.  Speaking of which, whoever is in charge of creature design on this show so far should be kicked to the curb immediately (maybe they can get a ride home with the screenwriters).  It has been dull at best and laughable at worst—most often it’s both, as with the skeleton which seems to have more common lineage with a sloth or maybe a steam shovel. 

The episode leaves us with plenty to wait for (I’m purposely avoiding the synonym “anticipate” which might imply eagerness or excitement) next week.  Erica may already be phosphorous-prepped for lizard impregnation, Anna and her daughter continue to play a masterful game of checkers as they attempt to outwit each other (I still stand amazed that this incredible race thought of inserting cameras into the fabric of clothing but have no cameras on their ship, even though they are inviting human beings to wander it freely and knowof the 5th column), and Anna apparently has a few choice words for her mother, who lives on Dagobah but does not appear to possess any Jedi powers.  So, see you next week, I guess.

Overall Rating:  6.0/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
  • Apparently Erica is under the impression that blood tests are performed by cutting your own palm open with an unsterilized scalpel.  The FBI really needs to raise their standards.
  • The woman at the FBI office actually feels the need to wonder aloud whether the bloody red clouds that have been milling about for four days might be related to the Vs presence. 
  • V trackers can do parkour!  They aren’t very good at it, but they can do it even though it slows down their escape, if anything.
  • I love, love, love that Anna tells the people of Earth that the horrifying rain of bloody redness they just suffered through without warning or explanation was just some harmless stuff that will cure global warming for us.  And no one seems troubled by this; if anything the protests seem to subside immediately.
  • I love how the simplest plans continue to work without a hitch on this show:  Erica gets back onto the V ship by telling a security guard that Tyler’s mildly nicked head requires V super-medicine and he immediately ushers them both aboard (and Erica gets to come simply because she says so in an authoritative voice—apparently alien rent-a-cops aren’t any more reliable than human ones!).
  • I’m no expert, but does it make any sense that a massive phosphorous shower wouldn’t have any visible or negative impacts on anything that might reveal its purpose is more nefarious?  Or, to put it plainly:  If raised phosphorous levels is enough to make humans into walking vacant apartments for alien lizard spawn, how are we expected to believe that it won’t have any other visible effects on the environment, flora, or fauna which would completely give the Vs away?
  • For anyone worried, I will continue to review this show even though I complain endlessly—I love to hate the stuff I hate, and I love equally the wonderful little moments it delivers every once in a while.


  1. While all your points are correct, I think you need to keep in mind this is a B level TV show as was the original. Given the soap opera good looks of the cast it is probably the right direction. It reminds me of the Bionic Man/Woman series in the 70's. It would be better directed at a 15 year old demographic but there is sexual content that makes it inappropriate for a young crowd while being too stupid to take seriously for an older group(as was the Battlestar Galactica remake). I still enjoy it though. Lizard people in spaceships trying to take over the Earth is very fun.

  2. I'd agree with you about what it is, I guess my frustration is that there's no reason that it NEEDS to be that. The modern TV landscape is full of smart, sharply written serial drama and scifi, so why go this route with it? And if you are choosing to go this route, why not embrace it completely? For B-list entertainment, this show is boring and mundane 95% of the time. If you want to be a B-level trash entertainment, you'd better throw a lot more B-level trash at the viewer (there's a reason people still remember the original series fondly).