November 04, 2009

TV: V (ABC, Tue 8)

It's been about 25 years since the first incarnation of V, which used a story of alien invasion as the basis for an allegorical re-telling of the Nazis' rise to power, exploring the seductive nature of evil, and how willing people are to overlook that evil so long as they're not directly harmed by it. Now V is back, and the new version is still a political allegory, but this one explores a very different rise to power.

The aliens seem to arrive from nowhere, with no advance warning. Suddenly, their motherships are in the sky above 29 cities, and we are being greeted by their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin). She is young, attractive, well-spoken, and incredibly charismatic; her easy smile and unflappable warmth are appealing to a nation still recovering from difficult years. She seems to have a special appeal to the young, and the Visitors (that's what they call themselves) make a particular effort to reach out to teens and young adults.

Gradually, the Visitors work their way into society; their first major project is a series of "Visitors Healing Centers," at which they offer -- and this phrase is a direct quote from the show -- "universal health care," including new cures for 65 human illnesses.

The media, represented by anchorman Chad Decker (Scott Wolf, perfectly cast in a role that calls for equal parts ambition and shallowness), is completely in Anna's pocket. When Chad lands the first one-on-one interview with Anna, he's more than happy to go along with her last-minute instruction that there must be no questions "that would show us in a negative light;" after all, this interview is good for his career. (There is a hint here of a genuinely interesting idea -- the only one the first episode has to offer -- that the increasingly partisan and biased nature of cable news isn't really about any genuine partisanship on the part of the anchors, but about ambition, ratings, and careers.)

There are those who don't trust the Visitors, but they are mocked by the pro-Visitor media as paranoid crackpots, not to be trusted. They are, of course, right; the Visitors are here to undermine and destroy our way of life, and only this brave band of rebels can save us from their nefarious plot.

In short, the new version of V is a depiction of the rise of Barack Obama, as seen from the Teabaggers' point of view; all that's missing is an Orly Taitz to demand Anna's birth certificate ("she's not really from this galaxy..."). It's no accident, I think, that the two characters who will be our principal heroes, leaders of the resistance, are an FBI agent -- representative of the permanent, civil servant government class (as opposed to the untrustworthy partisans who hold elected office) -- and a Catholic priest; church and state are brought together in this noble cause.

The show is skillfully made, with top-notch special effects by broadcast TV standards, and the first episode does a remarkably good job of cramming in a lot of plot; the original version would have taken at least three or four hours to get through this much of the story. The cast is fine; Elizabeth Mitchell as the FBI agent and Joel Gretsch as the priest are likable leads, and Baccarin is delightful as Anna, with a fine knack for combining a bright, warm, inviting smile with cold, dead eyes. So far, the entertainment value outweights the creepy conservative political subtext; let's hope it stays that way.

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