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Gannett News Service
November 3, 1994, Thursday

Earth 2: Better Than Expected

by Mike Hughes

In the year that TV rediscovered drama, this is a bonus: Suddenly, a network even does fantasy well. It knows when to go big for the dazzle, when to go small for the human truth.

And " Earth 2" - which has its two-hour premiere at 7 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBC- is a fine surprise.

" Earth 2" is better than we expect from TV fantasy ... much better than we expect from NBC ... and much, MUCH better than we expect from the company (Amblin) that gave us "SeaQuest."

When "SeaQuest" began it's run last year, the world shuddered. Amblin had committed the sin its owner (Steven Spielberg) avoids: It ducked emotions, giving us characters we couldn't care about.

That was typical of that low phase: With a few exceptions ("NYPD Blue," "X-Files," "Picket Fences"), TV was no longer creating good hour-long shows.

So people proclaimed the death of drama. Then came the counterwave, led by "Chicago Hope," "E.R.," "My So-Called Life," "Due South" and the return of "Homicide."

Now comes " Earth 2. " Like anything Spielberg does, it's gorgeous; unlike "SeaQuest," it makes us care.

In Sunday's opener, we learn that the Earth's ecology has been destroyed. Most people have spent their lives on space stations.

That's left many of the kids crippled by a syndrome caused by the unnatural environment. Now a mother (Debrah Farentino) has funded a mission to settle a planet 23 light years away.

Already, we care deeply. Things get even tighter, when the government tries to stop the mission.

This is a deeply felt story, with all the elements. There is natural beauty (filmed in the Sante Fe area) and cinematic wonderment. There are cosmic undertones, the sort that "Deep Star Nine" forgot about after its opener. There's a taut little script and a fine cast.

Spielberg leans toward heroes who are strong and silent and wonderful to look at. Farentino and Antonio Sabato, Jr., (as her hot-shot pilot) fit perfectly.

There are bonuses here. Try Clancy Brown as a rough-hewn worker ... Jessica Steen as a brilliant (but inexperiened) doctor ... Sullivan Walker, with his glorious Caribbean accent, as a cyborg. Even the kids are fine.

These are people we want to keep watching. On Sundays, we'll watch them try new frontiers.

SIDE NOTE: Lately, the networks have managed one terrific fantasy show (Fox's"X-Files") and a lot of so-so ones.

In non-network syndication, things range from earnest-but-stiff ("Deep Space Nine," "Babylon 5") to loopy ("Space Precinct").

Somewhere on the loopy side, you can put "Hercules and Circle of Fire." That's a two-hour movie that many stations will premiere this weekend.

A goddess has stolen fire, it seems, plunging the world into cold. Things are so bitter that Herc (Kevin Sorbo) and friend (Tawny Kitaen) are tempted to cover their low-cut shirts.

Mostly, they resist the temptation. We're not talking "Northern Exposure" here; the Hercules films love a fine torso, be it on a male or a female or a moving mountain.

Sorbo retains his dignity, during the better "Hercules" films - including last week's rerun - and during this one. Kitaen is a fine-looking person.