ABC’s ‘V’ raises the bar for sci-fi remakes

Remakes of old television shows are all the rage, but only once in a while do the suits behind these productions get it right. The latest remake to hit television is ABC’s “V,” based on the 1983 science fiction miniseries of the same name about seemingly friendly aliens who invade the major cities of the United States. The aliens, otherwise known as the Visitors (or Vs), spread a message of hope to the jaded earthlings in an attempt to become the saviors of mankind. Bringing science fiction to primetime, this show, with its exciting drama and subtle political messages, maintains the perfect balance between intelligence and entertainment.

“V” wastes no time, as the opening minutes of the pilot quickly introduce the audience to the main players living in New York City, and then promptly shakes up their world with the invasion of the Visitors’ mothership. The Visitors’ leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin), announces to the world that the aliens come in peace and wish to have diplomatic relations with humans.

Wary of the aliens’ motives, FBI Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) investigates their history and finds that they may have connections to terrorist cells. Alongside her partner Dale (Alan Tudyk), Erica unknowingly penetrates a V resistance group, where she discovers that the Visitors have been on Earth for years.

Erica runs into Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a priest questioning the Christ-like message the Visitors are spreading. Jack and Erica team up to re-boot the resistance to the aliens after major countries grant them the right to travel freely within their borders. Also hesitantly involved in the resistance is Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), a V who has been in hiding after trying to take down his own kind. He decides to fight once again after falling in love with a human, Valerie Stevens (Lourdes Benedicto).

The pace of the show is incredible. In only two episodes, the writers have established that the Visitors are not to be trusted — not only because they have been on Earth longer than they admit, but also because of the way they have set themselves up on Earth. Beautiful Visitors, like Lisa (Laura Vandervoort), recruit naive, unsuspecting humans like Erica’s son Tyler (Logan Huffman) to be “Peace Ambassadors” for the aliens.

There are religious undertones to the Visitors’ takeover and political ones as well — the plot is colored by a hope-enthused Obama era. Are the Visitors really harbingers of a new beginning, or do they just want to trick humans into destroying each other?

All of the evidence, so far, points to the latter, especially as Anna goes on live television with Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), instructing him beforehand not to ask anything that would paint the Visitors in a negative light. Scenes between Anna and her right-hand man Marcus (Christopher Shyer), reveal them plotting to get in the good graces of the humans. The writers reveal tidbits of information slowly enough to keep people interested, but avoid the stodgy, clunky nature of some of television’s other new shows (“FlashForward,” anyone?).

The acting is superb, especially from Mitchell and Baccarin. Fresh off her stint as Juliet on “Lost,” Mitchell takes on her role as a tough, single mother with spice, and audiences are convinced that Erica is capable of taking the Visitors down single-handedly. Baccarin, by contrast, uses such subtlety in her portrayal of Anna that despite her gorgeous human skin, she almost seems like an alien herself.

The supporting cast needs a little more rounding out, but all characters have promise, especially Chestnut’s Ryan, a V with a conscience and a desire to help the humans. Wolf’s Chad Decker becomes a compelling character; he mistrusts the Visitors, yet uses them to further his career, lying to the humans about how dangerous he believes the aliens to be. The show will clearly boil down to a humans-versus-Visitors conflict, but the aliens’ technology (they are machines encased in human bodies) doesn’t guarantee a fair fight.

ABC chose to roll out four episodes now and then pull “V” off the air until next year, but the show has started off stronger than any other new fall show, with 13.9 million viewers for the pilot. For writers, the secret to success might lie in keeping up the action without sacrificing the messages about the dangers of blind devotion.