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The Dallas Morning News

Light years from genius; Like the Mars Observer probe, NBC's Earth 2' has no direction

by Ed Bark, Television Critic of The Dallas Morning News

NBC's Earth 2 is out of this world, which isn't to say it's all that great.

Set in 2194, it looks to be a melding of Wagon Train, Lost In Space and tedium. It's out to launch some nifty special effects, but out to lunch with its pacing and characters. The last of this fall's 27 new series - seven already have been canceled or put on hiatus - takes up too much space with Sunday's two-hour premiere.

Earth 2, you're no Star Trek: The Next Generation, but you're better than Babylon 5.

The Captain Picard of this enterprise is dogged Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino), late of NYPD Blue and Detective John Kelly's bedroom. Ms. Farentino plays the humorless major domo of a humongous orbiting space station. Her son, "Uly" (short for Ulysses), has been debilitated by the station's sterile environment. He needs an Earthlike atmosphere, but the genuine article apparently has been polluted and ravaged nearly to death.

Devon's solution is a daring expedition to a planet that looks a whole lot like Earth and in fact is Santa Fe, where Earth 2 is filmed.

For some reason, though, the power brokers down below plan to end the so-called Eden Project by blowing Devon and company to kingdom come, or maybe Uranus. She escapes and crash-lands with a skeleton crew after the special effects people spend tons of time bouncing everyone around a spacecraft. They initially land in a nice tree-lined spot, but the planet's optimum land of milk and honey is a nine-month trek away. Devon is determined to set up a "fully operational outpost" on "New Pacifica" before the scheduled arrival of 258 more families 26 months hence.

"We didn't come this far to stop now," she intones. Guh-roan.

The crew member with the coolest name is Alonzo Solace (hunky Antonio Sabato), described in press materials as a "supremely confident space pilot." Devon's principal antagonist is the more conventionally named John Danziger (Clancy Brown), a "crack mechanic" with a mischievous preteen daughter called True (J. Madison Wright).

Four more characters and we'll stop: Dr. Julia Heller (Jessica Steen) is an inexperienced sawbones who also happens to be a blond bombshell. Government liaison Morgan Martin (John Gegenhuber) and his wife, Bess (Rebecca Gayheart), spend a good deal of their time conniving. The supposedly sage Yale (Sullivan Walker) specializes in looking grave.

What's missing - and sorely needed - is a character who jumps off the screen or even attempts a running start. This is a mighty uninteresting group that sorely could use an Andy Sipowicz or two.

Tonight's first featured creature is a cute, clawed little guy who should be in toy stores by Christmas. Young True befriends the thing and hides it in a backpack. But whoops, it playfully shoots off a rifle and is fired back on by the crew's only white-haired member. Immediately youthifying the cast, the creature shoots the old dude dead with one of its claws. You'd think True would be remorseful, but she's not. You'd think the crew would keep close tabs on the creature, but they don't. Aren't the scriptwriters paid to think? Mebbe.

The visitors later are imperiled by some crypt-keeper-like residents who live underground and rise above it to pull Uly (Joey Zimmerman) down with them. Alonzo somehow communes with them by dreaming, and Devon later welcomes herself to his nightmares. This all results in the return of Uly. Don't ask why. It just does.

Future one-hour episodes of Earth 2 will serve as Sunday-night companions for seaQuest DSV, which is set a paltry 27 years in the future. Both series are from Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, although Mr. Spielberg is not lending his name to Earth 2.

Next week's episode introduces the mysterious Gaal, who is seen looming from a hill at the close of Sunday's premiere. Claiming to be a marooned astronaut, Gaal is played by the increasingly inevitable but generally lively Tim Curry.

Maybe he'll provide a much-needed jolt to a series without enough juice. Otherwise there's always Eartha Kitt.

. . . I cut the rest of the article because it was not relevant to Earth 2. --KT