Off the Beaten Path | V: The Original Miniseries

V The Original Miniseries Textless Poster

It’s time for another round of Off the Beaten Path, today I’m going to expand the horizons of what’s covered on this review blog with something weird. 

If you readers are especially astute – and I assume you all are – I bet you’ve noticed a trend of the shows I’ve reviewed. Namely, with only two exceptions, FLCL and Spicy City, everything I’ve covered was from this last decade. Safe to say, this is something I need to rectify. There’s a whole world of TV from the 20th century that I have yet to explore.

So with that in mind, let’s look at V: The Original Miniseries, a hit miniseries from that hyper-liberal year of 1983 that launched a cult series that gets more and more timely as 2020 lurches forwards.

Alright, so the burning question; is V: The Original Miniseries good? To that, I’d say, yes, but it’s by no means the best thing I’ve ever seen.

On Fascism

Diana standing in front of a Visitor flag bearing their insignia

Like all great sci-fi, V: The Original Miniseries is a vehicle to not only explore a story and characters but also concepts and ideas free from the constraints of reality. So, we can’t talk about what makes V: The Original Miniseries good or not without discussing how it tackles the themes of encroaching fascism. Cause how the show plays into this theme is the thing that will make or break the entire shebang.

Thankfully, for the most part, I think the show succeeds on this front.

I should note something before I continue. Before I jumped into the series, I had at best passing familiarity with the V series. All I knew going in was that there were going to be reptilian invaders who conquer through subterfuge. Otherwise, I didn’t know what I was getting into beforehand.

Safe to say, it was pretty clear what was going on. Like, I never thought I’d find a more thematically unsubtle show than FLCL, but man did V: The Original Miniseries take the proverbial anvil cake.

Don’t believe me? In that case, just watch the first episode with the idea it’s about fascism. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. 

The Visitor’s control all information themselves through a Goebbels-esque figure on top of steadily increasing propaganda through posters and slogans.

They marginalize a minority group (scientists) through conspiracy theories. These scapegoated scientists, if they’re not outright disappeared, are forced to flee for their lives, or go into hiding to avoid being sent to the ships for processing (aka concentration camps).

The growth of resistance groups bent on liberation and local collaborators who leech of the Visitor’s influence is reminiscent of Vichy France.

The first Visitor unmasked

Side note, I find it low-key amusing/biting that show creator Kenneth Johnson makes the people who would gravitate towards the Visitors are those who defined the Reagan-era ethos. 

The “Friends of the Visitors” youth group is the equivalent of the “Hitler Youth”, where young people are indoctrinated to the point they’re willing to turn in families of scientists.

When the Visitors start using their military force as secret police, their troops look like Nazi storm troopers.

Diana’s experiments on humans bear more than a passing resemblance to the “experiments” Dr. Josef Mengele carried out on Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz.

Hell, even the visuals evoke Nazi’s in particular. The Visitor insignia is about 60% of a swastika and is emblazoned on Visitor uniforms on the sleeves, chests, and headgear like Nazi uniforms. 

Leonardo Cimino as Abraham Bernstein

In case we aren’t getting all of this, the miniseries provides us a character who spells this out in Abraham Bernstein, Daniel Bernstein’s grandfather.

Abraham, played by Leonardo Cimino, is an elderly Jewish man and a survivor of both the Nazi regime and Dachau. He is quick to spot the signs of encroaching fascism both in the wider world and within his own family and quick to act to help others as best he can, most prominently letting the Maxwell family hide in his seldom-used boathouse. While he doesn’t stay long – he’s disappeared by Visitor stormtroopers after Daniel turns in the Maxwell family – his role underlines an already spelled out theme.

So yeah, V: The Original Miniseries isn’t exactly what you’d call subtle. That said, it isn’t trying to be. I mean, can you ever make a sci-fi retelling of It Can’t Happen Here, an unabashed anti-fascism creed, subtle?

Also, watching both the news and V: The Original Miniseries, it’s hard to argue against the miniseries being more prescient as time goes on.

Sure, the Trump administration is too ineffective to pull off a fascist takeover quite like the Visitors do, especially here in the Information Age. That said, what we see on the news is too much like V: The Original Miniseries in slow-motion for comfort. So in other words, kudos to the miniseries for holding up surprisingly well in regards to the dangers of creeping fascism.

In terms of negatives on the fascism allegory, I don’t have anything definite.

That said, I do go back and forth on whether the fact that the Visitors being aliens undermines the allegory. Like, does the strength of the theme and the symbolism outweigh the fact that a fascist take-over of this sort only really happens from a home-grown movement as opposed to an outside force?

Also, I can’t shake the feeling that making the Visitors aliens play into typical fascistic xenophobia. Not enough to denounce the whole miniseries as defunct mind you, but enough that it makes you wonder.

David Icke

On a semi-related side note, I low-key wonder how much the V series in general influenced the rise of Reptilian conspiracy theories.

For those who don’t know, noted asshole British footballer turned asshole conspiracy theorist David Icke published his infamous work The Biggest Secret in 1999. In it, he outlines his theory that the world is run by an Illuminati-esque cabal of shape-shifting reptilian humanoids that have controlled us in a fascistic to harvest our negative emotions as sustenance since the dawn of humanity.

So, you know, not too far removed in terms of crazy for the man who popularized the 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theory.

While Icke’s use of reptilians is supposedly based on myths of shape-shifters and previous abductions, it’s hard not to draw parallels between Icke’s ideas and V: The Original Miniseries. At least to me, it looks like David Icke just took the Visitors (knowingly or unknowingly doesn’t matter here) and slapped his anti-Semitic ideas on top.

Sure, it doesn’t have much to do with whether or not V: The Original Miniseries is good or not. That said, I just find it interesting, especially as reports of aliens during purported abductions tend to follow pop-culture trends of aliens.

But What About the Rest?

V Marc Singer
Marc Singer as Mike Donovan

Alright, I’ve gone on for a while about the strength of the themes of encroaching fascism, but what about the quality of the rest of the miniseries? If I had to describe my thoughts in a nutshell, it’s that V: The Original Miniseries is entertaining but undeniably rough.

On the writing side, I have no major complaints. My favorite aspect there is the structure that juggles all the major character arcs. 

Mike goes from cavalier yet genre-savvy camera-man more concerned with acclaim to a Han Solo-esque pillar of the resistance, using the doggedness that defined his news career to bring down the Visitors by digging for the truth.

Julie starts as a bashful biology grad student, but soon uses her compassion and drive to become the leader of the Las Angeles resistance cell.

Elias goes from a jive-talking hood with a chip on his shoulder and a vendetta against his brother who’s only concerned about his well being to a stalwart member of the resistance who uses his street smarts to help everyone survive.

Robin goes from a horny teenager who is too fucking dumb to live to a proxy-mother to her sisters when her mistakes catch up to her, resulting in the attack on the rebel camp, the death of her mother, and her impregnation by a Visitor.

If there are any issues on the character arc front, it’s that there are so many characters that some inevitably fall by the wayside in terms of development.

Otherwise, the writing is fine. The dialogue is fine, on the nose sometimes, but based on the subtlety of the show I’m not overly surprised.

V Faye Grant
Faye Grant as Julie Parrish

The pacing is fine if a bit scattered sometimes due to juggling so many different concurrent plotlines.

The story also leaves on a bittersweet note – the rebels have lived to fight another day, but the scope of the threat means they’re likely just fighting for survival instead of liberation – that hopefully has us invested enough to watch the sequel miniseries V: The Final Battle.

My biggest complaint on the writing side is the nature of the Visitor agenda. Namely, it doesn’t quite hold water, both figuratively and literally.

Look, I understand initiating a largely bloodless conquest to save their desired human resources. It’s just the idea of shipping all the water on the planet and the majority of the world’s populations to at minimum the bulk of the Visitor’s empire is inefficient, even if they’re making a multi-generational plan to do so. I mean, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just terraform the planet for a full-on Visitor occupation, especially with the sheer distances involved? Sure, it’s a nit-pick, but it’s something that bugs me whenever a sci-fi author doesn’t bother to do the leg-work in terms of scientific research.

Martin reveals to Mike the truth of the Visitor’s human-based agenda

That said, it’s in the other areas of the production that shows just how rough V: The Original Miniseries can be. I gotta say, but watching something released post-2008 compared to pre-1990 is night and day.

On the acting side, we get some lopsided acting. For example, we get good performances from the likes of Leonardo Cimono, his monologues certainly tug at the heartstrings, and Jane Badler, she is one hell of a scenery-chewing villainess, but man is she fabulous at it. That said we get performances like Marc Singer’s, while entertaining, you wonder if he has more than one expression, and Evan C Kim, who plays Donovan’s sound guy Tony Wah Chong Leonetti. These two give some performances that are downright baffling under the circumstances. Like, watch them in the intro, it’s odd as shit.

This becomes more apparent watching more modern TV acting. As a comparison, I’ve also been watching Orphan Black. If we compare the acting between the two, it’s easy to say Tatiana Maslany’s acting is multiple levels above what’s on display here, but it also doesn’t help that most of the Orphan Black cast also deliver better performances on the whole.

Johnson’s directing is fine but plain. Like I just said above, he gets some rather variable acting performances. You can tell they based the whole series around the LA region so they could film there. During the action set pieces, you can tell the editing and cinematography are patching together unrelated shots into a loose whole.

The biggest indicator of V: The Original Miniseries’ roughness though is in the effects.

Diana looking at her next meal

For instance, you can easily tell they reuse the same footage of the shuttles flying in and out of the motherships. Also related to the shuttles, there are some noticeable compositing issues when they CGI the shuttles landing and taking off. You can usually pinpoint an effects issue to the Visitors. Also, the synthetic vocal effect they use for the Visitors can disrupt and clash with the sound mixing, which can get low-key distracting.

One moment that stands out in my mind is the first of many reveals about the true reptilian nature of the Visitors. Namely, the moment Diana swallows the guinea pig whole. Look, I understand they did the best they could with what they had available. That said it’s incredibly obvious they used a mechanical model, which can undermine a big moment, especially if we find what should be an “oh-shit” moment to be low-key funny.

That said, it’s not like the effects were all bad.

On the whole, I appreciate the ingenuity of having the Visitors use fake human disguises in-story, which saves the make-up artists a bunch of trouble and reduces the budget. I mean, those reptilian costumes can’t be all that cheap, and likely take a hell of a long time to apply depending on the level of exposure. Sure, it does low-key beg the question of why don’t the Visitors fully shed their disguises once they’re on the mothership, but that’s something I can get past for the most part.

In Conclusion

Alright, so that’s V: The Original Miniseries for you. As a first foray into older television, it is both surprisingly bound to when it was made (1983) while being surprisingly timeless. Here’s hoping the follow-ups live up to the promise seen here.

Final Recommendation: Recommend

My Episode Recommendations

  1. Part 1: Recommend
  2. Part 2: Recommend

In Case You’re Interested in Watching V: The Original Miniseries

Just a heads up. Due to the fact V: The Original Miniseries isn’t on any of the big streaming services or on YouTube, you won’t be able to legally stream it for free. If you don’t mind physical releases or purchasing digital copies, then you can pick it up on Amazon.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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