So it is in the world of "Earth 2," NBC's latest big-budget attempt to lure the sci-fi audience back to prime-time television. Produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin production company - which also is responsible for NBC's silly sub-par sci-fi series "SeaQuest" - "Earth 2" kicks off tonight with a flawed, but promising two-hour movie pilot that sets up a most intriguing plot.
You see, Earth - The Original Planet - has had its environment wrecked by greedy capitalist pigs, forcing humans to abandon terra firma and set up shop on orbiting space stations. Only problem is, some people are allergic to the sterile environment on these stations. And we don't mean mere sinus congestion.
The only solution for those afflicted is to leave the stations, and as "Earth 2" opens, several hundred families are preparing to do just that. They've boarded a ship that will take them to a new earthlike planet - one a mere 22 light years away. But because there's no warp drive in this universe, the would-be colonists - and an advance team that will prepare the planet for the settlers - will make the trip to Earth 2 while suspended in something called "cold sleep," an age-resistant mode of long-distance transport.
That's the easy part.
While the long, cold sleep goes perfectly, the advance crew runs into trouble just as they are ready to land their ship on the new planet. Specifically, their vessel begins to self-destruct. To the escape pods!
About a dozen folks survive the crash landing, including crew leader Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino), a determined mother who organized the mission to save her son (Joey Zimmerman) from the disease.
As for the rest of the space gang, it consists of just about every stereotype from Hollywood's unwritten manual of Motley Crew cliches: a wise black mentor (Clancy Brown), a hot-shot pilot (Antonio Sabato Jr.), an inexperienced young doctor (Jessica Steen), a malicious government worker who's not supposed to be on board (John Gegenhuner) and an annoyingly precocious kid (J. Madison Wright.)
And, of course, there's a talking robot.
In essence, "Earth 2" really boils down to a hybrid between "Gilligan's Island" and "Lost in Space," minus the slapstick humor. But instead of trying to get off the planet, the settlers' goal is to survive on it - by reaching a place called New Pacifica, a part of Earth 2 that they hope will support a new human civilization. If the show survives, don't expect them to get there any time soon.
Right now, "Earth 2," while far from awful, isn't all that much fun to watch. For one thing, the cast - many of whom are ex-soap stars - is not a particularly distinguished group of thespians. There's no Patrick Stewart - or even a Roy Scheider - to provide the show with a strong dramatic center.
But the concept of the series gives reason for hope. Rather than exploring new galaxies, the characters on "Earth 2" are re-exploring the whole concept of human civilization. Unlike "Star Trek" or "seaQuest," there's no confining spaceship here, something that should allow the producers a wealth of story ideas unavailable to other recent sci-fi shows. The special effects and production values also are pretty solid.
"Earth 2" may not boldly go anywhere sci-fi hasn't been before, but say this for the series: It's a whole lot better than "seaQuest."