Is V Anti-Obama Propaganda?

V exceeded many people's expectations last night, getting 13.9 million viewers and coming first among adults aged 18-49. But is the show just one big anti-Obama screed, as some have claimed? We'll answer that question... with spoilers.

So last night was the long-awaited debut of V, the show about beautiful aliens who show up and claim to come in peace and offer us lots of goodies... but turn out to be rapacious lizards in disguise. The pilot moves along at a brisk pace, introducing the aliens in the first 10 minutes and setting up various characters as anti-alien and pro-alien. The younger priest is suspicious, but the older priest is an alien-sympathizer. Elizabeth Mitchell's FBI agent is suspicious too, but her teenage son guzzles the Kool-Aid. The nice-suited African American guy is conflicted and doesn't want to be "that guy" any more.

By the end of the first episode, it's already made crystal clear that these aliens are up to no good. They've had sleeper agents on Earth for years, including Alan Tudyk's FBI agent. And other aliens living secretly among us are part of an anti-alien resistance, which may look like terrorists to the uninitiated.

So now that you've had a chance to see the pilot for yourself, you can judge whether it's actually a broadside aimed at our president. The Chicago Tribune's Glenn Garvin seems absolutely certain it is:

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 most fascinating and bound to be the most controversial new show of the fall television season. 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.

The meme spread throughout the right-wing and left-wing blogospheres yesterday, with Ana-Marie Cox weighing in over at Huffington Post.

So now that you've had a chance to see the pilot for yourself, is it really all about how we would have been better off with McCain in the White House? Umm... Probably not. But it was definitely not a subtle episode. The aliens had "too good to be true" plastered on their faces from the beginning, and because the episode moves so fast, we're left wondering why anybody would have bought this dog-and-pony show in the first place.

And there are some little winks at the right-wing tea-partiers that may just be intentional, like when Anna (Morena Baccarin) talks about "change," and the sleazy journo guy asks her about universal health care. Mostly, though, the show seems designed so that you can project whatever ideology you want onto it — not unlike Anna's luminous screen, floating over the world's major cities.

The show isn't subtle, but that's part of the point — there are no hidden messages here at all. The messages are all right on the surface, and they're pretty basic science-fiction standbys, like "aliens who seem too good to be true usually are." Even the show's little jabs at the media and our dumb youth culture feel like they're just slapping a 21st century paint job on the show's 1980s fable. Media talking heads are blow-dried and dumb, young twerps enjoy tagging and Youtube — it's not exactly incisive social criticism.

I really doubt Obama is worried here.

The fast pace, though, is a good thing — that's one of the things that endeared me to this pilot in the first place. Anyone who remembers the original show is going to know these aliens are hucksters, so the faster that's revealed to the audience, the better. And compared to the pilot of FlashForward, which fixated on the crashy destruction and chaos attendant on the future vision/blackout in its pilot for several minutes, V got the disruption of the aliens' visit over fairly quickly, with one desultory plane crash.

Watching the pilot for a second time, the main problem that jumps out at me is that those two teenage kids are going to make me want to claw my face off. And it seems like Smallville's Laura Vandervoort is going to be somewhat painful to watch as well, with the woodenness. But getting to see Elizabeth Mitchell kick more ass and be less angsty than she was on Lost pretty much makes up for those drawbacks. And priest guy, who hails from The 4440, is still just as fun to watch as ever. Plus Baccarin can only get slyer and more engaging as the evil Anna, once her evil plans unfold.

I'm pretty sure this version of the pilot was significantly different from the version we saw at Comic Con. We knew the final sequence was going to be different — that laser shooting robot drone (in the clip above) was not there before, and the last few minutes were generally zippier. But also, my favorite scene is missing from the televised version. In the original version, when we meet Chad Decker, he's just had sex with the vice president's cougar-ish assistant, who promises to get him an interview with the Veep in return for the booty call. It lets us know right away that Decker is a man-whore, and is sort of hilariously trashy besides. In the televised version, that's replaced with a bland scene of him wanting to interview the Veep, but being told that he's just the talking head who reads the news. I have a feeling there were other weird, funny touches removed before the show aired, but I can't remember the others off the top of my head. This definitely felt a bit blander than the original pilot, although how much of that was editing and how much was just seeing it a second time, I'm not sure.

But despite some quibbles, this was a pretty fun outing, and a nice start to the series. It got us to the "OMG the aliens are evil lizards" part quickly and zippily, and set us up for three more episodes of alien intrigue and human gullibility, with an anti-alien resistance simmering under the surface. Now if those two teenagers can just get blown up in a tragic shuttlecraft accident, preferably next week...