The mini-series suffered from stilted dialogue, hammy acting, and cheesy special effects. No storyline better exemplifies these flaws than that of young Robin Maxwell, an awkward teen who develops a crush on one of the Visitors, who eventually impregnates her. Both the writing and her delivery are cringe worthy (e.g., "Oh my gawd! He's looking at me!") and the birth of lizard-baby twins during the second mini-series was an unintended laugh-out-loud moment for many viewers.
The remake is far from perfect, but the acting and effects are both improved. The teen protagonist is now Tyler Evans (Logan Huffman) a composite of Robin and Daniel, the alienated teen who collaborates with the aliens in the mini-series. Tyler is seduced by the Visitors' hot women and cool technology. I was a little put off by his rapid conversion, which would be more plausible if he were a meek nobody, rather than a moody rebel. But Tyler's tour of the mother ship is one of the livelier scenes in the pilot, and I'm curious to see how the character develops. Judging from the previews, his budding alien affair will be pivotal to the retelling.
Tyler's mother Erica is played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who credibly radiates maternal concern. It helps that Mitchell reminds me of another '80s icon, hot hippy mom Elyse Keaton from Family Ties. But does television really need another FBI agent as a lead? Between Olivia Dunham on Fringe and Mark Benford on FlashForward, the field seems pretty crowded. I would have preferred that Erica be a scientist like the blond and brainy Dr. Juliet Parrish from the mini-series, who set my pre-teen heart aflutter.
And that brings me to my main complaint with the remake -- the weak political commentary. The mini-series was a thinly veiled allegory for the rise of German fascism. The Visitors were Nazis, from their uniforms and Swastika-like emblem, to their use of propaganda and brainwashing. Instead of rounding up Jews, the Visitors targeted human scientists like Dr. Parrish for persecution. Just in case you missed the parallels, there was an elderly holocaust survivor who pointed them out and even hid a family of scientists
The remake, by contrast, seems to be a mild allegory for 9/11. The opening sequence explicitly references that tragedy among others, a touch I found unnecessary. I was struck by the sight of New Yorkers gazing lamely up at the hovering space ships, which reminded me of walking up Broadway after the Towers fell and seeing people stare dumbly up at the Empire State building like they expected it to go next. That's also the implication of the alien sleeper cells, who are literally terrorist cells as well. Presumably, their investigation by the FBI will provide a procedural aspect to the show.
Unfortunately, much of this thematic ground has been covered recently by FlashForward and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. The latter is a particularly tough act to follow. Much of the expository dialogue in BSG was delivered by the super sexy Six, which helped the medicine go down. And with due respect to Morris Chestnut, Grace Park will always be the sleeper agent of my dreams. I think V did the right thing by giving the Visitors a backstory on Earth that predated the arrival of their ships. But that rushed scene in the warehouse was the worst of all possible worlds -- long exposition punctuated by chaotic action.
Ultimately, the remade V is slick but is kind of soulless at its core. Think of the exchange between reporter Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) who asks whether all the Visitors are as attractive as their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin). To which Anna replies, "you're not so bad yourself." The actors look great, and the dialogue is snappy, but the end product is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Compare that with one of my favorite scenes from the mini-series, where a high school band welcomes a local Visitor delegation with a cheesy rendition of Star Wars. The band begins to play about 1m 15s into the clip below.
It's painfully bad, but also earnest and real, kind of like the mini-series itself. And there, in a nutshell, is the difference between the remake and original. Given the choice, I think I prefer cheesy and earnest to slick and soulless.