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Fall Finale: V – “It’s Only the Beginning”

“It’s Only the Beginning”

November 24th, 2009

“Is this the real life / is this just fantasy … open your eyes / look up to the skies and see”

In addressing the fall finale of ABC’s science fiction series V, I quote Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for two reasons. The first is an excuse to link to the gleeful and wondrous Muppets version of the song released to YouTube today (if you need a better justification, let’s go with corporate synergy). The second is that the opening lines of this classic song feel like they capture the basic condition of most of V’s characters when these spaceships descended upon them. The very nature of science fiction that is roughly set in our own world is the question of whether the supernatural elements are “for real” in the sense that they should be trusted, which is perhaps what V has been missing since it debuted a mere three weeks ago. For a show about a race of aliens descending on humanity, the show has jettisoned the period of reflection in favour of drawing a line in the sand between skeptics who form a resistance against them and believers who freely choose to walk among them.

The logic behind the relative speed at which this has been accomplished is found within “It’s Only the Beginning,” which lives up to its cheeky title by confirming that, yes, this four-episode premiere event of sorts hasn’t actually managed to accomplish much of anything. In the show’s haste to define the characters quickly in order to bring in enough plot to tide people over until March (when the show is most likely to return), they forgot to show these characters struggling to come to terms with the Vs and the promises they offer to the world, and as such this finale has nothing to fall back on. The plot twists we see are intriguing (as the premise has not been the show’s biggest problem) if we care about the characters, but by separating the interesting individuals from the interesting stories (outside of Morena Baccarin’s Anna) the show has never tapped into the binary between these two cultures and the potential that lies within this premise.

Accordingly, it’s a good thing for the show’s creative future that it is only the beginning, although whether the series’ ratings future will be able to survive a rocky start is yet to be determined.

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V – “A Bright New Day”

“A Bright New Day”

November 17th, 2009

In its first four episodes, V has one of the toughest tasks in network television: it needs to both create a sense of momentum (in order to continue to engage viewers) and also leave viewers wanting more (so that they’ll come back when the show returns in March to finish its first season). What’s been clear thus far for the series is that it is sort of trapped between the two tasks, unwilling to blow its metaphorical load but also unwilling to slow things down to fully pull out the most interesting elements of the show’s mythology. It’s led to a methodical but unfocused start to the series, and unfortunately one which hasn’t yet pulled me in to the degree that it seems to want to.

The problem with “A Bright New Day” isn’t that it is doing anything particularly wrong with this premise, but rather that it feels entirely inorganic when introducing any sort of new developments. There is nothing elegant about this show, and while it (unlike FlashForward) has done well to keep its stories more inherently related to the plot of the series it has done nothing to make some of those inherently relevant stories entertaining (although parts of this episode are on the right path). The show is so desperate to show us certain things, and to have certain characters be in certain situations, that it doesn’t really care how it accomplishes it.

And while a more cheesy, 80s inspired series with some flair could easily get away with this, a show that purports to take itself seriously is going to run into a narrative brick wall, hiatus or no hiatus.

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Series Premiere: V – “Pilot”

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“Pilot”

November 3rd, 2009

“Where were you this morning?”

From an overall scheduling standpoint, V’s early November debut is problematic. It forces the show into airing only four short episodes this calendar year, and it won’t return until March with the remainder of its first season. However, in terms of its arrival, it comes perhaps at the perfect time in terms of impressive this particular critic. With disillusionment with FlashForward turning into outright disinterest, there’s room for another serialized piece of mystery/science fiction programming in my life.

And while there are some issues with V’s pilot, mostly stemming from issues symptomatic of pilots more than this particular show, it manages to do what FlashForward did not. By not only providing an adrenaline-filled opening that catches the eye with sharp rhetoric and explosive imagery but then following it up by demonstrating that it has long-term social and personal consequences (that the show intends to deal with), the show maintains an expansive scenario without reducing it to a single perspective. While the arrival of the Visitors affects some individuals more than others, that interpersonal conflict is superseded by a broader cultural impact that is as much a part of the show’s identity as is any one individual’s story.

What results is a pilot that manages to be both action-packed and ideologically-driven, and the building blocks of a show which could logically remain both of these things over its run so long as behind the scenes production issues don’t get in the way.

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The Office – “Golden Ticket”

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“Golden Ticket”

March 12th, 2009

In a rare instance of a cold open serving as a fairly strong thematic connection to the episode itself, we see Michael Scott’s view on comedy: it’s hilarious when he is responsible, but when it suddenly turns against him, himself becoming the source of the comedy, it’s not even close to being funny. So when he drops a cheap knock knock joke, he laughs – when Dwight subjects him to one, he bans knock knock jokes. Of course, the next moment, he’s absolutely captivated by Jim’s Ding Dong joke, demonstrating that Michael Scott is never able to resist whimsical humour, except when suddenly aren’t so whimsical after all.

What we have in “Golden Ticket” is such a scenario, the initial whimsy of Michael’s scheme shattered by reality, at which point he does everything in his power to take a potential embarrassment for him and turn it into one for someone else. What follows is not so much an episode built for comedy (which is sparing), but rather sheer social observation: what happens when the office’s usual power dynamics are put to the test by a failure so potentially catastrophic? Or what happens when Kevin tries to have a completely normal relationship around people who do not have completely normal relationships?

While certainly not a great episode, suffering from a portrait of Michael devoid of redemptive qualities, it nonetheless felt very true to these characters, and an investigation of humanity that only this show, with these pre-existing types, could really pull off successfully.

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