Discoveries In Twilight Zone

This week, CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard reviews three new science fiction dramas: Roswell, premiering Wednesday, Oct. 6, on WB; Harsh Realm, premiering Friday, Oct. 8, on Fox; and Now and Again, airing Fridays on CBS – all at 9 p.m.
It's time now for my yearly visit to the Twilight Zone. Those of us who grew up anti-social in suburban shopping malls sought in science fiction the alien Other and a pulp revenge.

Television should have been complicit in this quest. But unlike cowboys and private eye shows, sci-fi seldom got the ratings needed to survive.

Even the original Star Trek only lasted three seasons. Nifty series like Max Headroom, Alien Nation and VR5 disappeared into a wormhole or a borg hive.

While this all should have changed with Chris CarterÂ's X-Files, it hasnÂ't. Here are three maybes.

Carter himself returns to Fox Friday night with Harsh Realm, a combination of Blade Runner and Mortal Kombat.

John Leonard
Scott Bairstow, an Army vet fresh from the horrors of Sarajevo, is forced to play the ultimate Total War computer game.

He is precipitated into a savage virtual reality, a grunge Dune and Joseph Conrad music video, where Terry OÂ'Quinn is in jackboot charge of a fascist facsimile state, D.B. Sweeney is a Che Guevera in guerilla opposition, and Samantha Mathis may be a hologram. Anyway, they are all rogue-programmed without a surge protector.

With symbolic names like Pinocchio and Hobbes, Harsh Realm suggests that the Pentagon may be lying to us, and that life, like Picasso, is nasty, brutish and short.

If you liked The Matrix, which I didnÂ't, this is your kind of cyber-punk. But Harsh Realm is even more humorless than CarterÂ's super-glum.

Now and Again Smiles At Itselfcolor>

At least, competing head to head with Harsh Realm Friday nights on CBS, Now and Again knows how to smile at itself. Now and Again started off two weeks ago with a stunning sequence in which a terrorist called Eggman was left death on a subway. Segue to John Goodman, the last honest insurance salesman, who is promptly hit by a subway.

After which, in a government lab run by Dennis Haysbert, the middle-aged brain of Goodman is stuck into the bionic body of Eric Close, making him faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap short terrorists in single bound.

Naturally, our government wants him to waste our many enemies. Just as naturally, because the producer is Glenn Gordon Caron, wh gave us Moonlighting, all he really wants is to go back to his wife, played by Margaret Colin.

I love this concept: Who wants superpowers if what youÂ're really nostalgic for is middle age? Maybe this is because I hated being 16 years old the first time around, and I donÂ't intend to let it happen ever again.

Getting In Touch With Inner Teencolor>

Roswell, starting on the WB, will explain why. In the New Mexican desert town where flying saucers are supposed to have crash landed in 1947, Shiri Appleby, part Winona Ryder and part Ophelia, is gunned down at a fast-food joint.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
Jason Behr, so hunky youÂ'll want to nibble his ears, just canÂ't help himself. His healing hand leaves a palm print.

Turns out that Behr, his sister Katherine Heigl, and their buddy Brendan Fehr were alien seeds left behind in 1947. They only hatched 16 years ago. TheyÂ've no idea who they are or where they came from.

Only that the sheriff, William Sadler, is after them. And, even worse, they have to go to high school. Nevertheless, Jason and Sheri fall in puppy love.

What we have in Roswell, wonderfully, is a cross-pollination of the X-Files and Romeo and Juliet. Or The Fugitive and Catcher in the Rye. ItÂ's clearly in touch with our inner teen, a lost soul with call waiting.

Who among us in high school didnÂ't look in the mirror through a grid of acne and see an alien instead of an angel and wonder where we really came from?

WasnÂ't high school all about alienation, in gym clothes with a combination lock? And boundary situations like class difference, race division and gender confusion? And sheriffs, on our trail and our case? No wonder we read science fiction; it was a lot less scary than our own future.

Written by John Leonard
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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