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Jewish World Review
Nov. 4, 2009
/ 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5770
Have conservatives scored a stealth prime time drama?
Imagine this. At a time of political turmoil, a charismatic, telegenic new leader arrives virtually out of nowhere. He offers a message of hope and reconciliation based on compromise and promises to marshal technology for a better future that will include universal health care.
The news media swoons in admiration — one simpering anchorman even shouts at a reporter who asks a tough question: "Why don't you show some respect?!!" The public is likewise smitten, except for a few nut cases who circulate batty rumors on the Internet about the leader's origins and intentions. The leader, undismayed, offers assurances that are soothing, if also just a tiny bit condescending: "Embracing change is never easy."
So, does that sound like anyone you know? Oh, wait — did I mention the leader is secretly a totalitarian space lizard who's come here to eat us?
Welcome to ABC's "V," the final, the most fascinating and bound to be the most controversial new show of the fall television season, which premiered last night.
Nominally a rousing sci-fi space opera about alien invaders bent on the conquest (and digestion) of all humanity, it's also a barbed commentary on Obamamania that will infuriate the president's supporters and delight his detractors.
"We're all so quick to jump on the bandwagon," observes one character. "A ride on the bandwagon, it sounds like fun. But before we get on, let us at least make sure it is sturdy."
The bandwagon in this case is conspicuously saucer-shaped. "V" starts with the arrival of a couple of dozen ships from outer space, piloted by creatures who look like humans except a lot prettier. "Don't be frightened," says their luminously beautiful leader Anna (Morena Baccarin, "Serenity"). "We mean no harm."
The aliens — who quickly become known as Vs, for visitors — quickly enthrall their wide-eyed human hosts with their futuristic technology (they set up a chain of medical clinics and promise "to provide medical services to all") and their mushy we're-all-brothers political rhetoric, the latter tinged with faint reproach.
"Unlike you, we don't divide ourselves into countries," Anna explains. "We're all one united people."
A handful of dissidents holds out against the rapturous reception given the Vs. Some are simply uneasy, such as the youthful priest Father Jack (Joel Gretsch, "The 4400"), who sharply criticizes the Vatican's embrace of the Vs as divine creations: "Rattlesnakes are God's creatures, too."
Others range from Internet rabble-rousers to incipient terrorists. FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell, "Lost"), in pursuit of the latter, infiltrates the anti-V underground — only to discover that the skeptics are right: The aliens' munificent friendship is literally only skin deep. And the skull beneath this skin is very, very hungry.
"V," an ambitious remake of a 1980s NBC show, in many respects stays close to the original's story line. What has changed — radically — is the political subtext. Kenneth Johnson, who wrote and directed the 1983 miniseries (it spawned a sequel and then a regular network series over the next two years), took his inspiration from a 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel called "It Can't Happen Here" that depicted an imaginary fascist takeover of the United States. The aliens in the original "V" were patterned after Nazis, and, just in case anyone missed the point, an elderly Jewish character who was a Holocaust survivor periodically hammered on the similarities.
But ABC's series takes aim not at a German dictator from the misty past but a sitting — and popular — U.S. president. From the fawning reaction of the news media (sample press-conference question to V leader Anna: "Is there such a thing as an ugly visitor?") to the recruiting of human supporters into an alien front group that could easily be mistaken for "community organizing," the parallels to Obama are unmistakable.
The anti-V underground, in its frustrated insistence that the aliens have a covert agenda, resemble nothing so much as the anti-Obama teabaggers. And even the president's repeated attempts to suborn Republicans into making his program bipartisan get a scorching reference.
"Compromising one's principles for the greater good is not a shameful act," a V leader reassures an erstwhile opponent who's just been bought off. "It's a noble one."
But enjoying "V" does not require an official membership card in the birther movement, any more than you had to accept H.G. Wells' belief that the British class system would devolve into chaos and cannibalism to be entertained by the war between the delicate Eloi and the voracious Morelocks in "The Time Machine."
With or without the political sheen, "V" is sweeping television storytelling at its best. Whether you choose to view it as a blood-and-guts war story, a spy thriller (unlike the original show, these Vs are perfect replicas of humans, so you never really know who might be sitting beside you at the bar), a high-stakes family drama (as households divide over the intentions of the Vs), a religious allegory (the Vs make a crippled man walk, filling up churches again) or just a sci-fi throwback to the days of "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" and "The Thing," "V" is irresistible. This bandwagon is definitely worth jumping on.
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Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald
08/27/09: Left's been out for blood, too
08/13/09: What's not being celebrated
07/31/09: Pay-or-play means more lost jobs
07/16/09: OAS turns a blind eye to violations by left
07/02/09: Nothing so shocking about this coup
06/22/09: Libs' darling strikes out
06/03/09: Yes, America should read Sotomayor's speech in context
05/20/09: Bloody mission goes awry
05/07/09: The problem is they aren't just goofin'
04/30/09: Why can't students say guns in school?
04/08/09: When non-U.S. citizens vote
03/2e/09: Of course the AIG bonus boys the best and the brightest deserve their loot
03/12/09: No choice in Free Choice Act
© 2009, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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