Picks and Pans Review: Surface

updated 09/26/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Mondays, 8 p.m. ET)
SCI-FI

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Over the past two TV seasons an alien force studied every gesture made by Ari Gold, the freakishly overdriven agent played by Jeremy Piven on HBO's Entourage. These aliens then descended on Hollywood in human form, bought Blackberries and, using a special retractable digit, frantically text-messaged the networks to set up a superhuman schedule of breakfasts, meetings and conferences.

This is the most likely explanation why three networks have signed up fall series in which extraterrestrial life emerges dripping, by one route or another, from the water. In addition to this one for NBC, there are also CBS's Threshold and ABC's Invasion, which has the terrible luck of a premise that before the Katrina tragedy would have seemed inspired: alien infiltration launched with a hurricane in Florida.

Surface, at any rate, kicks off as a light, family-friendly show with some Spielbergian tricks of suspense. A strange new life form is swimming around, possibly after being spewed forth from an underwater crater or deposited beneath the waves by a shower of lights. In the pilot, the sea monsters make teasing appearances. One waddles by looking like a sea elephant with a hint of Quasimodo hulk. The best segments feature a boy (Carter Jenkins) who fishes up an alien pod and deposits it in the family aquarium. It's a fancy piece of design, this egg: A dimpled shell that almost looks like crystal, trimmed with what could pass for nickel copper. Those creatures are bringing back art nouveau.

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