The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
New TV season brings new shows and old favorites

September 28, 2000
By Franklin Harris

[Author's note: All times below are for the Central Time Zone. Local television stations are in the Tennessee Valley viewing area.]

It's fall, and a new television season is upon us -- for better or worse.

Returning sci-fi and fantasy shows include "The X-Files" (with David Duchovny working part time, and Robert "Terminator 2" Patrick taking up the slack), "Xena: Warrior Princess," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Roswell" and, for its final year (at last!), "Star Trek: Voyager."

Beginning next week, several new series also will hit the airwaves.

James Cameron follows up "Titanic" by executive producing "Dark Angel" for Fox (Tuesdays at 8 p.m.). Think of it as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" meets "The Fugitive" meets "Escape from New York." Or something like that. Jessica Alba stars as Max, the genetically engineered "dark angel" of the title.

Also on Fox is "Freaky Links" (Fridays at 8 p.m.), created by the folks who gave us "The Blair Witch Project" and the Wesley Snipes vampire movie, "Blade." Just one problem. All of the "Blair Witch" and "Blade" guys have been pushed aside and are no longer part of the show's day-to-day operations.

"Freaky Links," which centers on the exploits of a group of paranormal investigators and their trusty Web site, was originally called "Fearsum," until the Powers That Be decided to downplay the menace and hype the humor.

It sounds like "Scooby Doo" with a computer instead of a dog, and if it is any good at all I'll be amazed.

But enough of what the networks have to offer. What is up in the wild, wild world of syndication?

Returning shows in first-run syndication include "Relic Hunter" starring Tia Carrera as a poor man's Lara Croft. Locally, it airs Saturday at midnight on WAFF-TV 48. Meanwhile, on WHDF UPN 15, you can catch the new seasons of "Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict" (Saturdays at 7 p.m.) and "Beastmaster" (Saturdays at 4 p.m.).

But the show that has generated the highest expectations is "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda," which debuts Oct. 8 at 10:35 p.m. on WAFF.

Like "Earth: Final Conflict" before it, "Andromeda" began as a recycled pilot script by late "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry.

"Andromeda" stars Kevin Sorbo ("Hercules") as the captain of a starship trying to bring peace and order to a galaxy in chaos. If the original "Star Trek" was " 'Wagon Train' to the stars" -- Roddenberry's phrase, not mine -- then "Andromeda" is "Gunsmoke" in space.

Simplistic concept aside, "Andromeda" looks to be the most promising sci-fi series since "Babylon 5." For some idea why, check out the series of in-depth "Andromeda" articles at Space.com.

Of course, "Earth: Final Conflict" had a promising first season, but a second-season retooling turned it into just another mediocre sci-fi series, a mistake from which the show only recently, and partially, recovered.

Another high-profile newcomer is "Sheena," which features former "Baywatch" star Gene Lee Nolin.

"Sheena" will air Saturdays at noon on WZDX Fox 54.

While based on the exploits of the jungle heroine who appeared in "Sheena" and "Jumbo Comics" in the 1940s, the new "Sheena" has a modern twist. This time Sheena doesn't just swing on vines and knock evildoers upside their heads. Now she has the magical ability to transform herself into any jungle animal she can imagine.

Now, if you're going to the trouble to get a former "Baywatch" gal to be your star, why do you want to waste screen time by periodically turning her into a monkey or a lion? Face it, we're not tuning in to see Ms. Nolin's acting abilities.

My predictions: "Andromeda" may take a few episodes to get into gear, but after it does it will be surprisingly good. And lots of people will watch "Sheena," but no one will admit to it. Sort of like voting for Nixon.

There is also a re-run worth talking about.

The Sci-Fi Channel is showing "Babylon 5" weeknights at 6 p.m. That alone isn't especially exciting. TNT had been showing "Babylon 5" for the past couple of years. What is different this time is that Sci-Fi is showing "Babylon 5" in wide screen format. You know, with the black bars at the bottom and top of the screen so that you can see the entire image, without the sides cropped off. This gives "Babylon 5," already the most cinematic SF television show in history, an even more movie-like feel.

"Babylon 5" creator J. Michael Straczynski was always thinking ahead, so he filmed "Babylon 5" in wide screen to take advantage of the new high-definition, wide screen televisions, which are just now coming onto the market.

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