CBS (Wednesdays, 8 P.M. ET)
It's 2104 on the frontier planet of Avalon in this new cops-in-space saga, which bumps The Hat Squad to Saturdays at 10 P.M. ET. Jeff (Lady Boss) Kaake, Marjorie Monaghan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jack McGee and Danny Quinn play the rangers. Linda (Kindergarten Cop) Hunt is their commander. The idea is that even a century hence, cop mentality hasn't changed. As Kaake complains to hunt: "I'm tired of my people getting hurt over some pencil pusher from Central. I'm tired of the pay. I'm just tired."
The show has better-than-average effects and set design, but the dialogue, makeup and action scenes never reach takeoff. If this show doesn't make it here (I doubt it will), it can always join Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Lost in Space and other space opera reruns on cable's Sci-Fi Channel.
CBS (Saturdays, 8 P.M. ET)
More dismal escapist fare from CBS. Jane Seymour plays the title character, a doctor from Boston trying to establish a practice in the rootin'-tootin' town of Colorado Springs in the 1860s. As if Seymour doesn't already have her hands full trying to overcome the town's mistrust of a woman doctor, she also becomes foster mother to three young orphans. On the plus side, she strikes up a romance with the town's other outsider, a laconic mountain man (One Life to Live's Joe Lando). With his long hair and wolf companion, he's the ponchoed Tarzan of the Rockies.
The artificiality begins in the opening credits, when you see Seymour's head badly pasted on the body of a Victorian woman in an old print.
Despite a vivid pioneer look, this series is false and dull. Ah. well, if this show doesn't make it here, it can always join The Rifleman, The Big Valley, Bonanza, Gunsmoke and other horse-opera reruns on the Family Channel.
Syndicated (Check local listings)
For a show that wasn't ever a hit during its three-year run on NBC in the 1960s, Star Trek has had a remarkable afterlife. In addition to six feature films, the program also fostered Star Trek: The Next Generation, the most successful syndicated drama ever. That show has now spawned this spin-off, set at the same time in the 24th century (that's Star Date 46388.1 to you) on a seedy space station near the planet Bajor, an outpost abandoned by the evil Cardassians.
The population is made up of Star-fleet and Bajoran officers and assorted aliens, including those annoying creatures the Ferengi. Avery Brooks (A Man Called Hawk) is commander of this motley crew. Next Generation vet Colm Meaney, Nana Visitor, René Auberjonois and Terry Farrell costar.
Like The Next Generation, this show tends to be morally didactic. But also like its mother ship, Deep Space Nine is richly imagined, with good scripts and great visuals. In one regard this series tops its predecessors. The most interesting aspect of Star Trek has always been its villains. Now you don't have to wait for them to board the Enterprise. On Deep Space Nine, they skulk along the promenade.
NBC (Sun., Jan. 10, 9 P.M. ET)
This is a suitably garish retelling of Col. Tom Parker's outlandishly remunerated handling of the career of Elvis Presley. As portrayed here, Parker, 82, is a shrewd operator who manipulated a talented yokel for two decades, siphoning off 50 percent of Presley's earnings even after Elvis's death in 1977. Beau Bridges plays Parker, a former carnival huckster with a fascination for elephants and midgets. Newcomer Hob Youngblood plays the Big E.
The movie waterbugs through all the ruinous career decisions the schlocky movies, the Vegas enshrinement—and Elvis's bloated decline. Though the physical resemblance isn't striking, Youngblood sounds more like the King than Kurt Russell or the dozen or so other actors who have portrayed Presley. Bridges gives a brazen performance as the sordid Svengali.
This treatment is jumpy and cartoonish, including the device of having a posthumous Elvis wander through the film. Other than suggesting that Parker maneuvered Elvis into marrying Priscilla, there is little here to earn the subtitle The Untold Story. The script does state, however, what some researchers have charged: that Parker was not from West Virginia, as he claimed, but was in fact an illegal alien, born in the Netherlands. Elvis never did an overseas tour, reportedly because Parker was afraid of the scrutiny involved in securing a passport.
Revelatory or not, the story is enjoyable. Elvis lore has been so overmined, a film like this is like a Bible story—familiar but colorful.
>A SOPHISTICATED LOOK AT CRUDE OIL
AN EIGHT-HOUR DOCUMENTARY ON petroleum sounds like sticky going. But The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, based on Daniel Yergin's 1991 book, is a lively history, ranging from the first well in Titusville, Pa., dug in 1859, to Operation Desert Storm, tracing oil from patent medicine to lamp illuminator to the fuel that drives the world. The Prize outlines the repercussions—industrial, sociological, political and military—of the industry's growth, and the ruthless practices attending it. Donald Sutherland's narration is backed by insights of scholars and by marvelous photographs, archival film and new footage. PBS shows the series on four nights at 9 P.M. beginning Jan. 11.
Here it is the first week of the New Year, and there are already three new series to consider, with plenty more arriving before January is over. Nervous TV executives are wielding a quicker hook than ever before. If a show doesn't do well right off the bat, it's pulled—more than a dozen series from last fall's new season are already history—and a new one is tried. Given that some of the medium's most cherished shows (e.g., Cheers, Hill Street Blues) took a long time to find their audience, this policy of "Let's throw a lot of things at the screen and see if anything sticks" may not be too farsighted, but it sure keeps me busy.