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V Takes on Obamamania

The first episode of the new series V demands a second viewing. Maybe even a third.

Did a major television network really greenlight a show mocking the hope ‘n’ change express via an invading alien horde?

The series, a sleek upgrade of the cheesy 1980’s model, follows a smooth-talking, hope-spreading alien race who come in peace. But their platitudes are only skin deep. Lizard skin deep, for those who recall the source material.

The show, airing on Tuesday nights on ABC, earned praise from many television critics, though the folks at the New York Times and the New Republic weren’t pleased one bit.

What a shock.

To be fair, the show’s first hour-long episode is far from perfect, rushing to tell a story better told in a two-hour format.

Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) leads the ensemble cast as an FBI agent trying to track down a sleeper cell while keeping tabs on her wayward son. Her mission gets temporarily pushed aside when 29 spaceships suddenly appear over the Earth’s biggest cities.

The ships bring a message of hope from Anna (Morena Baccarin), the leader of the race quickly dubbed the “Visitors.” Every aspect of the first episode moves at warp speed, to borrow a phrase from another science fiction franchise.

Anna says her fellow aliens need some raw material found commonly on Earth to sustain her species. In return, the Visitors will share their medical and technological advances.

A smarmy reporter named Chad (Scott Wolf), an able stand-in for today‘s docile media, asks if she means “universal health care.”

Chad feels a tingle up his leg when he gets the chance for a one-on-one with Anna. But that chat, along with other aspects of the Visitors’ playbook, isn’t quite what it seems.

“We can’t be seen in a negative light,” Anna tells Chad at one point, and it’s hard not to think of the Obama administration firing off another salvo against that rebel alliance Fox News.

Frankly, the social commentary in episode one comes on too thick at times, a result of the rushed nature of the series’ introduction. We get “I Heart Visitor” T-shirts and smitten teens tagging the nearest buildings with a big red “V.” The Visitors need these young troops to help transform the Earth for the better.

“Embracing change is never easy,” Anna coos at one point. Where have we heard that before?

V blends slick special effects with a few meaty meta-jokes, a wink and a nudge to audiences weaned on genre fare.

“This is like Independence Day,” one teen jokes when he sees the aliens hovering above in their impressive spacecraft.

The joke stings in part because by now we’ve seen many of the story elements trotted out before. The aliens infiltrate humanity as in Battlestar Galactica, and the initial scenes of the alien invasion smacks of the War of the Worlds remake.

But the series will likely be discussed for its political allegories.

Jonathan Chait at the New Republic couldn’t stand to see a television series daring to mock anything but the GOP. He whines:

This is not just a right-wing worldview but the worldview of the paranoid Tea Party movement. … It’s grating that a potentially interesting concept was hijacked by right-wing political paranoia.

At least the New Republic dared to address the issue up close. You’d have to watch V with the sound off not to notice the Obama comparisons, but the Hollywood Reporter did just that with their review, a qualified rave nonetheless.

The “O” word also goes unmentioned in the New York Times review, which does fairly point out some of the show’s flaws.

The original series drew parallels to the rise of Nazi Germany, using clumsy special effects and bad ’80’s hair to flesh out the narrative. The new, mostly improved V takes on a much more current target. But can it keep up the pressure?

The first episode proved a ratings winner, but it remains to be seen if the political targets will still be in play in the weeks to come.

The series’ show runners already got the axe, and the new blood could push the show in fresh directions. Given ABC’s lack of support for The Goode Family, the recently canceled series which mocked liberal do-gooders, it wouldn’t be a surprise if V transforms back into a toothless science fiction romp before long.