If you were a kid in the 1980s you probably remember the massive television event that was V. Originally, NBC aired the sci-fi story of seemingly benevolent aliens, or ‘Visitors’, taking over Earth on May 1 and 2 1983. When V lit up the ratings, NBC quickly commissioned a sequel, V: The Final Battle, which aired across three nights just one year later. Later that year, NBC tried a television series but the magic was used up. After one season, V: The Series disappeared off our televisions. When ABC rebooted the series in 2009, it lasted only two seasons. But the original miniseries event and its sequel had a lasting impact. At the time of its release, audiences hadn’t seen anything quite like it outside of movie theaters. Clever storytelling and ground-breaking effects for the time guaranteed V a spot amongst the best sci-fi television series of all time.
When dozens of giant spaceships descend over major cites across the globe, the world comes to a halt. But the surprisingly human-looking ‘Visitors’ assure world leaders that they come in peace. They promise Earth new advances in medicine and technology while slowly ingratiating themselves at all levels of our society. Soon a small handful of scientists and journalists learn the truth – the ‘Visitors’ are not like us and they have not come in peace. It’s a discovery that comes too late as the ‘Visitors’ corrupt governments and turn much of humanity against this new small band of resistance fighters.
V’s Powerful Storytelling Triumphs Over Outdated Effects
Two things about V and V: The Final Battle will strike viewers today. First, the series’ groundbreaking television effects are not so impressive by today’s standards. To be fair, V was a television miniseries so it lacked George Lucas’ visionary Star Wars big budget effects. Some of its sound effects – including the Visitors’ resonating voices and their guns – retain some coolness today. Moreover, several sweeping shots of the Motherships descending onto Earth still impress. Though the lizard makeup effects and the huge reveal of Diana swallowing a guinea pig whole date themselves, it’s not hard to see how V’s aesthetics would influence later sci-fi movies and series.
Nonetheless, Johnson’s portrait of rising fascism in America feels all too real today.
Where V truly stands out, however, is its story and obviously parallels to the rise of Nazism in Europe. It’s this second aspect of the series that marks its contribution to sci-fi television. Series creator Kenneth Johnson had previously worked on The Bionic Woman and Incredible Hulk series of the 1970s. Johnson’s background shows in some of the series’ more convenient and hokey moments. Nonetheless, Johnson’s portrait of rising fascism in America feels all too real today. From the portrayal of the Visitors’ propaganda and manipulation of media to the attack on science, V feels more important in 2021 than it did in 1983.
V Boasts a Fun Ensemble Cast on Both Sides of The Battle
When NBC produced V and V: The Final Battle, made-for-television movies typically attracted character actors. A the time, there was a more clear division between ‘movie star’ and ‘TV star’. Nonetheless, the ‘Human Resistance’ featured a likable cast of characters with whom it was easy to sympathize. If the series’ story gave it depth, it was the cast that made it fun. Both Marc Singer (The Beastmaster) and Faye Grant, as resistance leaders Donovan and Juliet Parrish, made for engaging lead characters. And a strong ensemble capably supported Singer and Grant. Most notably, horrors fans will recognize a pre-Elm Street Robert Englund as kind, simple Visitor, ‘Willie’. Prolific Canadian actor Michael Ironside (Scanners, Starship Troopers) only shows up for V: The Final Battle but he’s an instant fan favourite as anti-hero Ham Tyler.
But their characters’ ease and motives for collaborating with the ‘Visitors’ drive home the series’ warning that the past can all too easily repeat itself.
On the Visitors’ side, Jane Badler’s ‘Diana’ was the series’ most compelling character. Badler oozes the kind of villainy that you’d regularly find on primetime soap operas. While the character is pretty one-note, Badler has fun with the role making it easy to see why she took on such a significant role. After his big entrance, Richard Herd doesn’t make much of impression as ‘John’, only occasionally turning up. Likewise, Andrew Prine’s ‘Steven’ mostly hovers in the background as a supporting villain. Instead, the human sympathizers present with the more compelling arcs. Neither Neva Patterson, as Donovan’s ingratiating mother, nor David Packer as loner turned Visitor Youth Corp member Daniel are strong actors. But their characters’ ease and motives for collaborating with the ‘Visitors’ drive home the series’ warning that the past can all too easily repeat itself.
V and V: The Final Battle More Relevant Now Than When Originally Released
Not surprisingly, V’s special effects, action, and made-for-television humour haven’t aged well. Nostalgia likely will keep older viewers coming back, while younger audiences may wonder what all the fuss was about. But V’s storytelling was its strength when it hit television screens in the mid-1980s. Its allegorical tale of the spread of fascism, misinformation, and anti-science in the United States is arguably only more relatable. By 1983, World War II and Nazism may have felt more like a history lesson for 10-year-old viewers. After the last five years, however, V feels almost prescient. When we’ve seen right-wing conspiracy theorists dressed as Vikings storm Capitol Hill, invading alien lizards disguised as ‘us’