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The Houston Chronicle
November 5, 1994, Saturday, 2 STAR Edition Pg. 4

'Earth 2' soars to new sci-fi heights

by Ann Hodges, Houston Chronicle TV Critic; Staff

IT'S 200 years from now, on a planet 22 light-years from here, and everything old is new again.

Circle the wagons - the Terrians are coming!

"Earth 2," NBC's long-awaited sci-fi launch from Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television, splashes down at 6 p.m. Sunday on Channel 2, and this one is worth the wait.

It's "Lost in Space" light-years updated, sci-fi family style - explorers braving a new frontier, with a little thrilly-chilly for everybody. It has E.T.-cute critters for kiddies to love (and, no doubt, to buy before long), underground spooks for grown-up goose bumps, special effects, high-tech-looking gadgets, alien experiences, and action, action, action.

It's just what executive producer Michael Duggan promised when Amblin pitched him the show in the perfect one-line description: "A Wagon Train story on another planet.


These pioneers are a strange breed.

Debrah Farentino is the wagon master, Devon Adair. Her parents fled Earth as it died of human-induced ecological disasters.

Devon was born and raised on a space station.

But now, a space journey away, a hospitable planet promises a new Earth. And Devon must be the trailblazer to go there, to save her young son's life. Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman) is one of 250 space station children dying of a disease caused by the absence of fresh air, water and earth itself.

Departure is a close squeak. Devon, with the help of her faithful cyborg (Sullivan Walker), a crack mechanic (Clancy Brown of The Shawshank Redemption) and a self-confident pilot (Antonio Sabato Jr. of General Hospital) barely manage to blast their ship past the escape hatch before the bomb that's meant to blow it goes off.

Their fellow travelers include a doctor (Jessica Steen of Homefront) who's never handled a case on her own before; a tricky-dicky government liaison man (John Gegenhuber) and his vain young wife (Rebecca Gayhart), and the mechanic's bright young daughter (J.Madison Wright).

Their trip's a long sleep - 22 years, to be exact - and the landing's a crash. But Earth 2 is everything they'd hoped - and more. There are two moons in this blue night sky.

The rude awakening is that somebody - or something - has been eating their porridge and sitting in their chairs. Storage bins where earlier expeditions stashed exploration gear are now nearly empty.

These poor pilgrims have landed on the wrong side of the rock in a land of strange, indigenous beings.

Some are cuddly creatures that can kill you if they want to.

Some look like Native Americans from a cowboys-and-Indians movie.

And on top of all that, the valley this hardy group now has to cross is as dry and forbidding as a desert you might find in New Mexico. (FYI, this desert is New Mexico - with some help from digital enhancement. This series is shot outside Santa Fe.)

Earth 2 is different from any other science fiction show, because (a) it is set entirely on another planet, (b) its new world is as pristine and ecologically pure as Earth itself was in the beginning, and (c) the humans are the aliens there.

They're high-tech people who have to make do without it, said Carol Flint, a third executive producer.

"A lot of our stories draw not from future science fiction, but from Columbus' journeys, Lewis and Clark and the like.

Great explorers are part of the source material for this show,'' Levin added.

You won't find Spielberg's name when this show's credits crawl. He did take his credit for seaQuest DSV last year, and got bashed for it. He chose to remain anonymous this time.

He may wish he hadn't, though. Earth 2 is no wobbly-bobbly seaQuest. It could even be a big winner, if CBS' 60 Minutes can ever be overcome.

And a win on Sunday would make two big ones for Spielberg's Amblin this year. ER also bears that brand, and it's the hottest new show of them all.