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Keeping up with the Jones

Sean Patrick Flanery on the return of ”The Young Indiana Jones”

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As the young Indiana Jones, he has made love with Mata Hari in Paris, swum in a crocodile-infested river in Africa, and dodged international spies in Germany — but Sean Patrick Flanery’s big challenge right now is finding skim milk in Prague. ”Overseas they have only whole-cream milk as thick as pancake syrup,’ says the former college triathlete. ”I cannot put that in my body.”

For his role as star of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the Texas-raised Flanery, 27, has had to spend a lot of milkless days and nights abroad. One of the most expensive series on TV ($1.5 million per episode), Chronicles, which returned from a five-month hiatus on March 13, films in exotic locales from Barcelona to the Congo as the junior Jones matches wits with historical legends like Charles de Gaulle and Albert Schweitzer. Boasting Indy’s creator, George Lucas, as executive producer, the show has drawn top directors, including Mike Newell (Enchanted April), Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror), and Monty Python’s Terry Jones.

Yet Chronicles has had a harder time finding its audience than Indy did tracking down the lost ark. The show has changed time slots twice since its debut a year ago, finishing near the bottom of the rating heap. Its return scored higher numbers — 35th place, with 18 million viewers — due in part to a guest appearance by the original Indy, Harrison Ford, whom Flanery says he watched ”50 times in Raiders of the Lost Arc to pick up the way he cracked the whip, the way he wore his hat, and that weird, at-arm’s-length relationship he had with women.”

Flanery, of course, is at ocean’s length from most women he knows. The distance, at least, keeps him from thinking about ratings. ”I’m so detached out here, I don’t have a grip on what’s happening in the U.S. But the show is bound to come into its own.” Meantime, he has learned one critical lesson in his 14-country (so far) trek: ”I take powdered skim milk wherever I go.