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Chicago Tribune
November 6, 1994 Sunday, Chicagoland: Tempo; Pg. 7.

Down To 'Earth'
NBC's New Sci-Fi Series Homes In On Relationships

by Ken Parish Perkins

Over the summer, critics and other television industry observers were saying the most pessimistic things about " Earth 2, " the NBC sci-fi drama that debuts at 6 p.m. Sunday on WMAQ-Ch. 5.

The network had left the show open to criticism by constantly tinkering with its format and taking a long time in getting the series, about the adventures of Earthlings searching for a new world, on the schedule.

The doomsayers may not prove very accurate. Judging by the two-hour premiere episode, " Earth 2, " produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television, is a well-crafted and entertaining show, based less on high-tech action than interpersonal relationships. And despite some high-powered competition, I wouldn't be surprised if it found a loyal following.

In the two-hour premiere episode, entitled "First Contact," " Earth 2" plays more like a melodramatic version of TV's other special-effect-enhanced sci-fi dramas, including its NBC underwater companion "seaQuest DSV" and the various "Star Trek" series.

The cast also is younger and more attractive than what we're used to seeing on sci-fi series. "General Hospital" heartthrob Antonio Sabato Jr. plays a dashing space pilot, and Debrah Farentino, David Caruso's former flame on "NYPD Blue," is the smart, resourceful mission leader who organizes the covert expedition.

The premise holds great possibilities. The show is set 200 years in the future, and humanity, relegated to living in space stations orbiting Earth after our planet became permanently polluted, must attempt to start over on a planet that is 22 light years away.

Sunday's show begins with the " Earth 2" crew making an escape from one of the space stations (the government is trying to stop them from leaving) and after a long journey-during which the crew was put in a state of hibernation-their craft crash-lands on the new planet, losing important survival equipment.

The Earthlings thus are forced into an arduous 3,400-mile trek across a planet very much like our own and are confronted by strange creatures, bizarre occurrences and internal conflicts. But that's not the only obstacle facing " Earth 2. "

Scheduled opposite the high-rated newsmagazine "60 Minutes" on CBS, ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos" and football on cable, " Earth 2' s" biggest challenge will be convincing viewers to change some well-established Sunday night habits.

NBC is hoping to build a large, loyal audience for Sunday night sci-fi by pairing " Earth 2" with the successful "seaQuest DSV," which will follow the new series at 7 p.m. next week, after Sunday's two-hour premiere. Fox must have a similar notion, as it has moved repeats of its cult favorite "The X-Files" to Sunday at 6 p.m., following NFL football.

" Earth 2" is off to a promising start, although it will be interesting to see how sci-fi fans respond to a series that's not based on space flight, special effects and mysterious heroes and villains who hide behind heavy makeup.