When I finally resigned myself to the fact that each new episode of Glee would be slightly more mediocre than the one before it, I began looking for another TV show to follow. Thankfully, I happened across ABC’s V, a taut sci-fi thriller that has shown more potential in its first two episodes than most shows do in a season.
V tells the story of a group of aliens, or “visitors” as they call themselves, who suddenly appear in huge motherships parked over twenty-nine of the world’s major cities. The visitors are all beautiful and they immediately attract a following among awestruck earthlings with their advanced technology. They also begin healing terminal diseases, organizing youth groups and petitioning world governments to give them visas so they can move freely across the globe.
Of course, not everyone believes the visitors are entirely benevolent. Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) is an FBI agent whose terror investigation becomes strangely intertwined with the visitors’ arrival. Likewise, Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a Catholic priest who can’t see how the visitors fit into God’s plan, encourages people to be suspicious of the aliens. Eventually, it’s revealed that the visitors do in fact have some nefarious secrets and the series will presumably follow the cast as they choose sides and try to figure out whom to trust.
As a sci-fi series, V includes the requisite spaceships and advanced technology that dominate the genre, but the show’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s more social drama than space opera. For example, though the first episode reveals that the aliens are less human than they look, the show has yet to include any wild-looking, Star Wars-esque creatures. Everyone looks human, which both heightens the show’s sense of paranoia and avoids cheesiness.
Similarly, while the show includes scenes on the sleek spaceships, most of the story follows the (much grittier) lives of the humans as they try to navigate a culture that may or may not be saturated with aliens, terrorists and informants. In the end, then, V is sci-fi at its best: an exploration of contemporary political anxiety and social tension. Borrowing from its roots as a 1980s allegory for fascism, the show depicts a morally complex world in which the aliens are merely place-holders for real-world fear, xenophobia and globalization. Some, including Slate’s Tony Patterson, have pointed out that this allegory may in fact be an indictment of the Obama administration but, if nothing else, the show’s premise has the potential to explore an array of political topics as it continues to unfold.
For all its appeal, V isn’t perfect. Some of the requisite special effects are fantastic, but others betray the limited budget of a television show. The spaceships are believable enough, for example, but some of the alien devices that zip through the streets of New York are less so. Furthermore, the show isn’t based on a particularly original premise. This fact is highlighted in the pilot episode when two teenagers are interviewed on the news and comment that what they’re seeing is just like the movie Independence Day, which, they say, was itself a knock-off of countless other alien-invasion movies. The moment is telling, because V is indeed borrowing a common sci-fi premise and because its producers seem to realize (and relish) that fact. Still, these elements are forgivable because of the series’ priority on story over spectacle.
V is still in its earliest stages and there is plenty of time for the show to soar — or make a crash landing. Yet in a TV environment that so often lacks entertaining shows that are also socially relevant, V earns its keep and is definitely worth watching.
New episodes of V air Tuesday nights on ABC and are posted to Hulu the following Saturday.
Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture correspondent for Rhombus. You can follow him on Twitter @jimmycdii.
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