It hasn't exactly been a banner season for TV drama. The only breakout hit has been NCIS: Los Angeles, a rather formulaic spin-off of a rather formulaic show.

At least ABC saved the best for last: V, a remake of the 1983 made-for-TV sci-fi classic.

A fleet of alien spaceships suddenly appears, hovering over Earth's largest cities (and, for some inexplicable reason, the Egyptian pyramids). Our "Visitors" (or V's for short) look just like us, only better. Apparently, they come from a planet of catalog models.

The foxy supreme commander (Morena Baccarin) broadcasts a message of goodwill and cooperation.

"Until now, we believed that we were the only intelligent life in the universe," she says to mankind, appearing on the only overhead video screen in the galaxy larger than the one at Cowboys Stadium. "We're overjoyed to find that we're not alone."

They're just here, they assure us, to refuel, using an unspecified mineral that is just lying around on Earth common as dirt. In return, they will give us all kinds of advanced scientific goodies. Then they'll skedaddle.

Ha! Anyone familiar with the original mini-series (which also spawned a sequel and, later, a weekly series) knows that the aliens speak with a forked tongue. Literally.

Even if you're a V newbie, the nerve-jangling suspense music that plays constantly is an unmistakable tip-off that our visitors are up to no good.

In the original, it fell to a rogue journalist (Mark Singer of Beastmaster fame) to figure out the aliens' real strategy.

In the new version, the chief skeptic is an FBI counterterrorist agent (Elizabeth Mitchell of Lost). I guess this means that as a society, we look up to authority figures more than we did 25 years ago.

Mitchell isn't the only thing V has in common with Lost. It's also being parceled out in a maddeningly sporadic fashion.

After four episodes airing during November sweeps, V doesn't return until March, after the Winter Olympics. If the ratings are favorable, nine more episodes will be produced for the spring.

V has a lot going for it, including a paranoid sci-fi premise that still grips. (Anyone remember the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"?)

While the special effects and crowd scenes aren't too convincing, the rendering of alien technology is quite good.

The cast is a real asset. Among the leads are Scott Wolf (Party of Five) as a network anchor, Morris Chestnut as a love-smitten suitor, and Logan Huffman as Mitchell's teenage son, who thinks the aliens are fabulous additions to our planet.

On the debit side, V cultivates too many distracting subplots, and it's riddled with implausibilities. For instance, if Mitchell is such a helicopter parent, why would she let her son zoom around Manhattan all the time on a motorcycle?

You also get the distinct impression that subsequent episodes won't be able to live up to the pilot, that the new V, like the original, will make a splashy entrance and then hang around the keg for hours, telling boring stories.

It's worth tuning in tonight, anyway. Even if V's quality turns out to be fleeting, it's still comforting to see signs of intelligent life in the TV universe.

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/daveondemand.