V (ABC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET), a show about killer iguanas from outer space, reworks the '80s science-fiction smash of the same name. In its first incarnation, V was pulp with a seriousness of purpose. It quickly emerged that the space lizards, handsome in their human disguises, wanted to take our water and then use it to wash us tasty earthlings down. They were allegorical German fascists and quite effective as such. Despite being the sort of entertainment in which a fox swallows a guinea pig, the original V was a tale of resistance more potent than two out of three Oscar-season Nazi films.
The new V, duller stuff, opens in New York City, in our recessionary America. The pretty mouth of newscaster Chad Decker announces that foreclosures are on the rise and housing prices continue to fall. The pretty head of single-mom FBI agent Erica Evans rests blondly on her sunlit pillow, soon to fill with anguish because her teenage son has been out all night. Rugged young Catholic priest Jack Landry despairs that his pews are empty. Then the iguana spacecraft—one of 29 descending on tourist locales across the globe—arrives with a rumble that is literally iconoclastic, toppling a crucifix in Jack's church. The clergyman begins sharpening his action-scene skills by rescuing a parishioner from a swan-diving Jesus.
The lizard buggy entering the airspace above Manhattan looks like a blue-crab version of a classic flying saucer. It hovers, and its underside transforms into a video monitor. The screen fills with the ravishing face of Anna, the iguana boss lady, who wears her hair in a Natalie Portman pixie cut and glows like a Lancôme model. She's upfront about having come here in search of water, her tone roughly that of a neighbor dropping in to borrow a half-cup of milk. She wraps up her debut performance by saying, "We are at peace, always." Inanely, the people of New York applaud this statement like tourists begging a second curtain call at The Lion King.
Anna makes for the U.N., a visit that cannot possibly disrupt Midtown traffic more severely than an actual meeting of the General Assembly. Here, unctuous Decker tosses her an ass-kissy question, earning a lust-tinged gaze and also an exclusive interview. Just before their chat gets under way, she instructs him to keep playing softball: "Don't ask any questions that would portray us negatively." He balks. She keeps up her seduction: "This interview would elevate your career, wouldn't it, Mr. Decker?" Though we don't hear much of what Anna has to say—"I can see Alpha Centauri from my house"?—the Anna-Chad relationship emerges as the most fertile thread of the story. It is one of the few points at which V makes a necessary connection with the real world, proposing that media bias is a matter less of ideology than of careerism.
Where Chad shelves his doubts about the dragon lady, the other lead earthlings swiftly join an opposition movement, connecting with the scant few humans unimpressed by the aliens' good looks and smooth talk. Erica, between generic moments with her son, links the "Visitors" with terrestrial terrorists. Amid insipid patter with his girlfriend about commitment, a businessman named Ryan reluctantly pledges himself to fight the good fight. The skepticism of the priest proves faintly more intriguing than these bland scenarios. "I'm at a loss to understand how God and aliens exist in the same world," says Father Jack, soon seen busting the heads of false idols.
More than a few journalists and bloggers have remarked that it's possible to read V as an allegory hostile to President Obama and sympathetic with the birthers and other nutcases who believe him to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. The charismatic Visitors load up their "bandwagon" by "spreading hope." In using their sophisticated iguana technology to provide free medical services, they promise "universal health care." Indeed, if the show is to have the symbolic import that we expect from a science-fiction story, this is the only possible way to read V as a coherent text. The only problem with this analysis lies in its generous presupposition that the text is, in fact, coherent.
Pressed about the politics of V at a press conference, executive producer Scott Peters maintained, "We are not looking to put any sort of agenda onto the table," while also holding that the show would introduce "themes that would make sense in a post-9/11 world." But these aliens hardly work as stand-ins for Islamofascist terrorists, a group not generally associated with friendly overtures or broad public acclaim. That claim makes no sense—and it's far less fun than the idea that V was brought to air by the Illuminati, who have lovingly crafted "preemptive propaganda against real Extraterrestrial Disclosure." Perhaps it is best to heed the words of Peters' colleague Jeffrey Bell: "I just want to remind people it's a show about spaceships on ABC at 8 p.m." Too true.