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"V" Turns 40
Paying homage to the 1980's television sci-fi phenomenon.
Let me start things off by assuring you all that I had fully intended on writing about something other than television shows this week. Two of my last three newsletters were about streaming series, and I was prepared to take on an entirely different topic today.
But, just a few days ago, “V” began trending across the interwebs… and everything changed.
Well, not “everything.” Really just my writing plan.
If you were a boy in elementary or middle school exactly 40 years ago, there’s a pretty good chance you were still excitedly talking (around the classroom pencil-sharpener) about a super-cool, two-night, big-budget, sci-fi mini-series that had just aired on NBC. At recess, you were probably reenacting the show’s action scenes, using your index finger and thumb as a laser gun. In art class, if you were perhaps a little weirder than some of the other kids, you may have even been coloring the top of your hand with a green magic marker, smearing Elmer’s glue over the top of it, and then — a few minutes later — methodically peeling back your faux skin in front of your classmates to grossly reveal your “true” reptilian identity.
If you’re weren’t part of the demographic I’m describing, you probably have no freakin’ clue what I’m talking about. So, I’ll explain…
After weeks of heavy (and rather mysterious) network promotion, “V” premiered on May 1, 1983. The opening scene introduced viewers to fearless TV-journalist cameraman Mike Donovan (Marc Singer), as he’s covering guerillas battling government forces in El Salvador. Think lots of machine guns, explosions, and helicopters. Suddenly, the action draws to a halt as a shocking sight appears in the sky above: an enormous flying saucer lowering into the atmosphere.
The spaceship is not alone. A total of 50 “motherships” park themselves over major cities across the globe. There’s no communication at first from whoever may be inside, and if the plot so far sounds a little familiar, you’re probably thinking of the movie Independence Day, which, several years later, unfolded very similarly.
But the aliens in “V” haven’t come to Earth to blow the crap out of everyone and everything. They come in peace, or so they say. And get this: they look just like us humans, and even speak our language. Sure, there’s a strange resonance in their voices, and they have to wear tinted goggles (as part of their snappy red uniforms) to deal with eye-sensitivity to our sun. But they’re polite and offering advanced technology and medical breakthroughs in exchange for Earth-abundant chemicals and minerals needed to save their dying planet.
It sounds like a pretty good deal, and world leaders welcome them with open arms. I mean, what could go wrong?
As these “visitors” integrate with our society and institutions, and become tightly embedded in branches of our government (including law enforcement), strange things begin to happen to us earthlings. Political leaders start acting differently — out of character, including in their physical habits. Scientists become social pariahs, are persecuted, and some even go missing. Free thought and expression are steadily eroded by strong-arm tactics and propaganda campaigns.
Some humans recognize what’s happening, and aren’t going to sit back and take it. One of them is Mike Donovan, who sneaks aboard a mothership with his video camera, hoping to expose the alien’s ultimate goal.
What he discovers is pretty shocking.
For starters, the aliens eat live rodents…
More importantly, as depicted in the picture up top (as well as in this awesome, very memorable fight scene), they’re super-strong lizard people whose human form is merely a disguise!
We later learn that the aliens, in addition to taking those chemicals and minerals they asked for, are depleting our planet of all of its water. Oh, and one more thing… They’re also abducting us humans for food.
Perhaps our leaders should have asked a few more questions before partnering up with this crew.
Donovan is kept from revealing his findings to the rest of the world (because the aliens have taken over the media), so he joins an underground resistance movement to help fight the lizards and take back our planet… which isn’t easy since the reptilian jerks are now running a police state, neutralizing dissenters, and recruiting our impressionable youth to serve as their foot soldiers.
An as adult, it’s impossible to miss that the story was an allegory of Nazism. But as a kid, all I cared about at the time was how thrilling and visually awesome the show was.
Marc Singer was a fantastic action hero (the kind a young John Daly wanted to grow up to be). Jane Badler was a mesmerizing villain (the perfect mixture of evil and hot). And the enormous supporting cast (which included A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund playing a kinder, gentler alien) helped elevate a dramatic and sometimes sentimental story to epic proportions. The stunts and action sequences were killer, and with a few glaring exceptions, the special-effects were quite impressive (by television standards at the time, anyway).
“V” was an enormous hit. An estimated 40% of the national viewing audience watched it over those two days. It became a pop-culture phenomenon, leading to multiple re-airings, toy lines, comic books, and a great follow-up mini-series released a year later called “V: The Final Battle.” That’s when actor Michael Ironside joined the cast as badass mercenary Ham Tyler, a fan favorite.
The second mini-series was hugely successful as well, and launched a weekly series that fall (so much for the “final battle”). Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good, shed several of its key cast members, and lasted just shy of a full season. (There was also a “V” remake in 2009, but it was so lame I don’t even want to talk about it.)
Despite a lackluster sendoff, the “V” franchise of the 1980s lives on in the hearts and minds of many of us Gen Xers, and has aged surprisingly well (at least judging by my kids’ reaction when I showed it to them a few years ago).
And though I’m not much of an anniversary guy, any opportunity to recognize the greatness of this television institution is one I’ll take.
I promise to present some non-couch-potato content next week.
Did you dig “V”? What was your favorite thing about it?
I couldn’t have been the only one thinking this.
Obligatory Dragon Shot (in Honor of “V”)
My wife lost her in the basement the other day, but she turned up.
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
Keeping with the theme of classic sci-fi television franchises, The Twilight Zone movie (which came out the same year as “V”) of course couldn’t touch the greatness of the original television show, but the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith stays true to the iconic theme, and compliments the brand quite well.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!