The Hartford Courant
November 4, 1994 Friday, Statewide: Connecticut Living; Pg. E1
Pioneers Seek New Planet In ' Earth 2'
by James Endrst; Courant Tv Critic
Are you ready for some frontier adventure -- "Star Trek" style?
Are you ready to get lost in space?
Can you get into a planet where the humans are the aliens?
Well, then fasten your prime-time seat belts and prepare for the liftoff of NBC's " Earth 2, " a trippy wagon train that starts rolling Sunday night at 7 (locally on WVIT, Channel 30).
It's another big-budget, entertainment-or-bust effort from Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television -- the company that gave us "seaQuest DSV" and this year's hit hospital show "ER."
Set 200 years in the future, " Earth 2" follows the travels and otherworldly travails of a renegade group of explorers on a distant orb.
To find life outside the space stations where humanity has been encapsulated above a long-ago poisoned Earth.
Debrah Farentino ("Equal Justice") leads the cast as well as the crew in the role of Devon Adair. A determined Earth mother, Adair has organized the expedition in large part for the sake of her son Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman), a cute little kid disabled by the unnatural environment in which he has been raised.
As his mom explains in voiceover as the series begins, Ulysses suffers from "an absence of what nature can provide. An absence of fresh air, of fresh water. An absence of Earth."
So it's off in a way-cool spaceship they go with a couple hundred others -- but not without some life-threatening opposition from the government, which tries but fails to blow the ship to kingdom come. Though the " Earth 2" pioneers -- part of the so-called Eden project -- leave the unendurably crummy atmosphere of space-station life behind them, a last-minute disaster leads to a crash landing and a less-than-perfect start in their new and strangely inhabited neighborhood.
Without equipment and many of their supplies, the expatriates find good will is in potentially short supply. Fortunately, most crew members have their heads and hearts in the right places. There's hotshot mechanic John Danziger (Clancy Brown), who has brought his sometimes troublemaking daughter True (J. Madison Wright) along for the ride; Dr. Julia Heller (Jessica Steen), a doctor who's long on intelligence, short on experience; Yale (Sullivan Walker), a cyborg; and Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato Jr.), a talented and hunky pilot.
Unfortunately, there's also this crew's version of Dr. Zachary Smith -- a government weasel named Morgan Martin (John Gegenhuber) who is to be watched carefully, as is his wife Bess (Rebecca Gayheart).
Naturally, or rather unnaturally, there are the bizarre life forms that inhabit this otherwise unblemished landscape (in actuality, a location not far from Santa Fe, N.M.).
The most frightening, mysterious and mystical of them all are the Terrians, a bunch of dirt-dwelling, dream-invoking locals with creature-from-the-deep characteristics.
" Earth 2" also has Kolas, cute-pie e.t.a. that have deadly potential when pushed -- and, oh yeah, Tim Curry. (But we'll save him as a surprise.)
On far more solid ground than "seamiest DS" (which is broadcast Sundays at 8) and a couple of light years short of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," " Earth 2" is supposed to be an environmentally sensitive "Star Wars," an "Indiana Jones" we can learn from.
According to " Earth 2" creator/executive producer Michael Dudgeon ("Law & Order"), "The trek of our characters is analogous to America's movement westward when the wilderness was settled. We are suggesting -- without preaching -- that this is mankind's future and that if we're smart, we won't make the same mistakes again."
Good intentions don't necessarily make good television, however. And though there is a good deal of on-screen proof that money is being spent on high-tech bells, whistles, computer wizardry -- not to mention makeup -- " Earth 2" does have some classic sci-fi hangups.
As often happens in space dramas, there's a certain weightlessness to the acting -- as if the cast hasn't entirely suspended its disbelief.
The dialogue, on the other hand -- again like a lot of space programming -- can get a little too heavy.
"We bring so many questions with us," Adair says in an early, narrative address to the audience. "Will this new planet hold the key to healing humanity? Will the frontier hold the same promise it did for our ancestors?"
Better she should ask: Will this show make it through the November sweeps?
The chances are " Earth 2" will indeed survive, if for no other reason than that NBC has invested so much in Spielberg and Co.
Even if, as is the case with "seaQuest," Spielberg won't allow his name to appear in the credits.