V: The Series rocked my world when it came out in 1984. The Star Wars Trilogy ignited my desire to tell stories, but the original V: The Series taught me that there were many different ways a story can be told. For my nine-year-old self, the series itself took risks that today are commonplace in shows like Lost or The Shield, but were amazing to behold at the time.
The V “franchise” began with a miniseries in 1983, which concerns alien motherships appearing suddenly over several major cities (just like this year’s ABC remake.) The aliens, calling themselves Visitors, insist they come in friendship, and offer their technology in exchange for our minerals. Soon, however, scientists (who are skeptical of the Visitors) are persecuted and rounded up, and we learn that the Visitors are actually carnivores reptilians who are here to steal Earth’s water and use humans as a food source. Less E.T., more “To Serve Man.”
Series creator Kenneth Johnson designed the original miniseries’ story as an allegory for the Nazi’s rise to power, and so it’s no surprise that a Resistance forms to defy the Visitors and kick them off-world. The V miniseries was a huge success, and it was followed by sequel miniseries V: The Final Battle (which had little involvement from Johnson) and then ongoing V: The Series, which only lasted one season.
The series was memorable to me for several reasons:
First of all, the show killed characters. Not guest stars, not episode one-off people … but people who had been with the show from the beginning, like Elias Taylor (Michael Wright), who heroically sacrificed himself to save Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin), the mother of Elizabeth, the half-alien/half-human Starchild. Elias’ sacrifice was completely in-character, but at the same time, his death so suddenly, and without warning, it was shocking to a kid used to Gimme a Break!
Secondly, two main characters, Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) and Robin, leave mid-way through the season. That was likely for budgetary reasons. Despite the miniseries’ success, V: The Series never found a loyal audience. But still! Ham Tyler! The baddest ass this side of L.A., and Robin, the mother of the Starchild herself … were written out of the show in a way that worked with the characters and overall story arc.
Third, as the series progresses, things do not go well for the Resistance. Their hideout is discovered, and they are forced to flee. Main character Donovan (Marc Singer) has a son, Sean, who has been missing since the miniseries, and is now part of the Visitor’s Youth Corps. They do not reunite happily.
Fourth, lead alien Diana (Jane Badler) is an incredibly compelling supervillain. Cunning, brilliant, cruel (she’s a Visitor), and yes, drop dead gorgeous (I had a huge crush on Jane Badler), Diana stayed one step ahead of the Resistance and always managed to find new ways to rain death and destruction on her enemies (including fellow Visitor rivals).
I could go on, really. I have not re-watched the show in years, and that’s probably for the best, because the special effects are likely dated (although the laser guns still have an awesome vwee-shaww sound) and there are production/development areas where the show is also likely not up-to-par. Also, the entire series ends with a rather maddening cliffhanger that was never resolved. But I think it’s a testament to Mr. Johnson’s original idea, the show runners, writers, actors, and crew that this show still has an impact on me, 25 years later. It taught me that a show does not need to have static characters who live through episodic adventures, that a story with characters who go through all the motions of “real life” – living, loving, dying, and leaving can be done expertly and with meaning.
N.B. In these ways, the show is superior to its well-funded remake. Although the remake has well-written and well-cast female heroines (I dislike using an adjective like “strong,” as if it’s somehow a novelty for a woman to be strong), the relationships between the characters are not as deeply-drawn, to my mind, as the original series. The remake grew more interesting toward to the end, but I don’t think I’ll be writing about it 25 years from now.