Angel, Low To The Ground

Consider, if you must, the forthcoming fall television season: You have John Goodman as a gay man, Charlie Sheen as Michael J. Fox, Gabriel Byrne as a single dad, Geena Davis as a pain in the ass, Bette Midler as Bette Midler, Jon Cryer as every character he's ever played, and, returning, Debra Messing as Lucille Ball. It's enough to make you want to pick up a...what's that thing called, with the pages and words and punctuation and stuff? Let's stop pretending: Everything between now and January is down time till CBS brings back Survivor. Till then, we must muddle through a handful of hopeful High Concepts (NBC's Ed, in which a big-city boy moves back to his small town and opens a law office in a bowling alley; and ABC's Gideon's Crossing, in which Andre Braugher takes Frank Pembleton into the ER) and yet another season of Norm and Two Guys and a Girl and Everybody Loves Raymond (yeah, right). Bruce Springsteen was right, but off by 100: It's more like 157 channels and nothing's on--except Never Say Never Again, airing 32 times a day on Starz!

Fox, suffering the biggest audience decline of any of the major networks in the last 12 months, hopes to stop the bleeding with two high-profile offerings: FreakyLinks, brought to you by the creators of The Blair Witch Project, till they were booted off the show; and Dark Angel, an hour-long sci-fi drama created by James (Terminator, Titanic) Cameron and Charles (Murder One) Eglee. The former, which will be reviewed here next week, is a mundane bore; the latter--a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Taxi, Ally McBeal, and Dawson's Creek--is not nearly as interesting. Put it this way: If the Titanic had been made of the same material from which Dark Angel is manufactured, it wouldn't have sunk when it hit that ice cube.

Granted, it's not fair to judge a new series by its pilot episode, when characters must congeal and plots are secondary to set-ups. But nothing about the first episode is appealing enough to warrant a second-week's viewing; it even looks low-rent. Jessica Alba, playing a genetically improved superwarrior named Max who is on the run from her creators in 2019 Seattle, lets her pouting lips do all the acting; as an actress, she's an excellent cardboard cutout. When we meet Max (10 years younger, played by a girl who looks like Phoebe Cates' little brother), she's running from baddie John Savage in a scene lifted from the snowmobile sequence in Die Hard 2. Max and 11 other superkids have escaped their Wyoming prison-school, which looks like something out of a high-school production of The Wall; grown-up, Max wants only to stay hidden, at least until she finds her "brothers" and "sisters," all of whom are identifiable by the bar code on their necks.

But Max, who works as a bicycle messenger when not breaking and entering, is drawn out by Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly, wearing Don Johnson's Miami Vice facial hair), a revolutionary "journalist" who taps into network programming to warn the downtrodden citizens of a post-apocalyptic Seattle about the baddies stealing their meds and other hard-to-care-about plot points. (In Dark Angel, the U.S. has been leveled by terrorists who, in 2009, obliterated all electronic files using a magnetic pulse; Seattle now looks like Detroit.) Together, Max and Logan will fight crime, fall in love, whatever. If you watch the second episode, let me know what happens. I'll be watching Caddyshack on Cinemax.