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The Plain Dealer
November 5, 1994 Saturday, : Arts & Living; Pg. 8e

Earth 2' Travelers Plant Roots

by Tom Feran

Gene Roddenberry, the late creator of "Star Trek," sold the show to NBC as "'Wagon Train' to the stars.'

But the description might work even better for " Earth 2, " the new NBC series that debuts with a two-hour movie at 7 p.m. tomorrow on WKYC Channel 3. Its futuristic space travelers are settlers, not simply explorers, who make up families instead of just a crew - including a 9-year-old boy who asks "Are we there yet?" as he awakens from the "cold sleep" of a 22-year voyage.

More important to viewers, tomorrow's big-budget premiere could be the best we've seen in years for a sci-fi series outside the "Star Trek" franchise.

It's ambitious and impressive enough to dispel the rumors that have dogged the show for months - that production problems delayed the premiere, and that Steven Spielberg removed his name from the credits in dissatisfaction.

For the record, NBC says the premiere was always planned for November sweeps, after what would have been the World Series. And Spielberg - whose Amblin Television produced the show - wanted it to stand on its own, without the sort of hypercritical attention his name drew to "seaQuest DSV" last year.

" Earth 2" does stand on its own, especially by the standards of the genre. It has a better than average cast whose acting is neither wooden nor hammy, distinct characters with realistic motivations, a compelling and speculatively plausible story, terrific sets and fine special effects.

Rising above "Lost in Space" to near-"Star Trek" levels, it's also a show that qualifies as all-ages viewing, though it might be too intense at times for younger kids.

The show begins some 200 years in the future, above an Earth that is so polluted and depleted that humans are forced to live in sterile space stations. Because the lack of a natural environment has led to a life-threatening syndrome among a new generation, Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino of "NYPD Blue") has organized an expedition to a pristine planet 22 years away as the only hope for her physically impaired son, Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman).

But the mission is sabotaged by a government that fears losing control of its canned populace. The pioneers make a run for it in the crisply rocketing first hour, and eventually crash on the new planet. They begin a trek to the "New Pacifica" site of their new civilization and await the arrival of 250 more families as colonists.

Conflicts threaten to tear the group apart while it begins to discover and contend with the life already on the planet - ranging from a regulation-cute E.T. knockoff to the menacing and grotesque Terrians, who apparently inhabit a tunnel world and communicate over a sort of dream-net. The show bogs down when it reaches too far for "Star Trek" profundities, and works best when it sticks to its human adventure story.

Sullivan Walker ("Where I Live") co-stars as Yale, the group's cultivated cyborg. Clancy Brown ("Highlander") plays the hired mechanic, John Danziger, who has a young daughter, True (J. Madison Wright). Antonio Sabato Jr. ("General Hospital") plays space pilot Alonzo Solace, Jessica Steen ("Homefront") is Dr. Julia Stern and Tim Curry arrives for a few episodes as the only human already on the planet.

" Earth 2" moves next Sunday to 7 p.m., in the dangerous zone opposite "60 Minutes." But if the "new beginning" suggested by tomorrow's premiere holds up in subsequent episodes, the colonists just might survive in the place where nonehave before.