The best villain on TV this season doesn't carry a gun or drive a fast car, is neither a corporate schemer nor a drug dealer. No, TV's best villain is a scraggly-haired, deep-voiced creature from a distant planet's outback who makes trouble for Debrah Farentino and company.
Tim Curry has a lock on an Emmy nomination for his guest-starring role on NBC's " Earth 2. "
As Gaal, he's at once scary, evil, vulnerable and winsome. His baritone voice and Shakespearean-trained inflections, in combination with that wide, almost-innocent smile, make him perfectly creepy.
For now, Curry's run may be over. Gaal was slated to appear in a three-episode "limited arc" on the futuristic series from Amblin Television and Universal Television.
Curry disappeared into the ground last week, but we never saw a dead body. You know what that means: Is he really gone? Might he return during the next sweeps period? The series continues at 6 p.m. Sunday on Channel 4.
Gaal is malicious and devoid of morals. He is a Caliban-like creature who keeps company with monsters when he's not trying to ingratiate himself with the expedition. He offers love in exchange for power; he enslaves whomever he can (the Terrarians are under his spell); he works through magic and trickery - but what a smile! What gall.
Curry (a skinny young thing in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and more recently in "Stephen King's 'It"' and "The Three Musketeers") offers stunning flashes of anger between dips into the warm-cuddlies. He is at his best in scenes with the gifted young J. Madison Wright, who portrays True, the daring pre-teen daughter of the mission's chief mechanic.
"You must remember, little one, there's no such thing as right and wrong. Not here," Gaal counseled True in a recent episode. "Bad thought? No such animal on this planet."
On his neck he bears what he calls "the emblem of true genius," a scar that spells "E2," as in Earth 2. He asks his eager protegee to "show me what knowledge is hidden in that golden head" in exchange for induction into his secret club. Will she or won't she? And will she continue to be rescued by her father, played by Clancy Brown?
The series, shot in the otherworldly landscapes of New Mexico, covers topical quandaries. Concepts like genetic engineering and ethics are as likely to pop up as a laser gun.
" Earth 2" has its problems - Farentino's character, Devon Adair, is supposed to be the mission leader. She continually falls apart, relying on her male subordinates to make decisions.
Is she a feminist role model or is she adventurous only for the sake of her son? Do women have strength only when their maternal instinct requires it? The writers can't have it both ways.
And John Gegenhuber, as the scared government liaison, seems to be playing Don Knotts in space. His needy, annoying character veers into slapstick.
Still, the show regularly reaches beyond standard-issue action-adventure, inviting viewers to think.
The curious villain who is both hateful and endearing is an example of that stretch. The casting of Curry was a brilliant stroke; let's hope he returns to make the most of it.