Aliens in America (and the Rest of the World): ‘V’

Oh, internet.

Look, folks, do you really think the V remake is anti-Obama propaganda? Does it not seem slightly more likely that the idea of lovely alien visitors who promise universal healthcare is just, well, the result of a heavy hand on the part of the show’s creators, who are beating the audience about the head with Timely and Important Commentary on Life, the Universe and Everything?

But wait — I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s one thing the new V definitely is, and that’s getting off on a slightly wobbly foot. The premiere didn’t waste any time: By the end of the hour, we know for sure that the aliens are reptilian under their borrowed human skin, and that they’re not the nice, giving, slightly creepy but generally harmless visitors their leader, the gorgeous Anna (Firefly‘s Morena Baccarin), claims they are. They’ve got sleeper cells all over the world! They’re making passports and torturing humans and violently breaking up meetings of those who disagree with them!

V really wants to be relevant. Like, really, really relevant. So relevant they went a few steps too far, at least for me. Right away, a plane falls out of the sky in New York City, its pilot limply parachuting down behind. And did I miss a caption, or did the visitors arrive on a Tuesday — a gorgeous, warm fall Tuesday? Thanks, guys. Your 9/11 references weren’t obvious enough already. Like virtually everyone has pointed out, Battlestar Galactica had a lot of post-9/11 relevance. It also had a reasonable degree of elegance, and sometimes a dollop of subtlety. V is opting to take the broader route, the more familiar route, the simplified route. It’s a little weird how straightforward and simple this show seems, coming from the same network that gives us the puzzle that is Lost.

But all isn’t aggravating or lost. Sure, the harsh camera angles are disconcerting (though I’ve got a bit of a theory about the sharp, strange angles, which often result in eerie eye-lights that glimmer narrowly in characters’ otherwise impenetrable eyes: Lizard Cam!), and some of the dialogue is downright leaden. Did they actually make Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost‘s fantastic Juliet), as suspicious FBI agent Erica, deliver a cliché-riddled few lines about how her son must be running off to hang out with the Vs because his father left? Yes. Yes, they did.

But Mitchell rises above (as does the eerily calm Baccarin, and Morris Chestnut as Ryan Nichols, a man whose past is rapidly catching up to him). Mitchell can deliver even the tiniest line with wit and humor; listen to the many layers she gives to the word “No” when her partner (Alan Tudyk) asks if he can drive. In one word, she illuminates the relationship between them, the power structure, the familiarity. Even with the clunky, exposition-heavy lines, she gives Erica a down-to-earth quality that contrasts nicely with Baccarin’s alien beauty, the boyish greed of Scott Wolf’s hungry reporter, Chad Decker, and the bland blandness of her son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who meets a hot V and is totally sold on their message of love and giving and connection and, y’know, taking over the world and such. Like io9‘s commenter, I would like the show to hurriedly throw Tyler under a bus, but I doubt we’re going to get that wish: He’s got to stick around to add some extra drama to Erica’s newfound role as a V resister, and to court the youth vote — er, I mean, the younger viewers.

I think there’s enough here to make V worth watching, but it feels like watered-down sci-fi, layered with familiar images as if the creators hope that will make it more palatable to a non-genre viewer. The speed with which the pilot zipped through the introductory material was interesting — there’s no uncertainty as to whether these aliens are in fact reptilian and murderous — and it means we can dive right into the resistance and, hopefully, some character-building. More badass space technology, less whiny teenagers, OK?