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Fall TV preview: Friday shows

‘Now and Again,’ ‘Mission Hill,’ and other shows kicking off the weekend in fall 1999

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NOW AND AGAIN
CBS 9-10 PM Debuts Sept. 24

With every Fall schedule comes the usual selection of dramas about doctors, lawyers, cops, insurance salesmen-cum-government-engineered superheroes … Wait a minute, did we read that last synopsis right? Yep, it’s CBS’ new sci-fi specimen Now and Again, in which — try to follow us here — middle-aged Everyman Michael Wiseman (John Goodman) gets pulverized by a subway train, and then is rescued by shady federal operatives who transplant his mind and soul into the body of a bionic twentysomething (Eric Close) and force him to fight terrorism. Oh, and did we mention he’s not allowed to see his wife (Margaret Colin) and kid (Heather Matarazzo) ever again?

Confused? Of course you are. But even though Now may be a bit of a head scratcher, it also boasts this season’s most intriguing premise. Which makes sense, since it sprang from the off-kilter mind of Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting). ”There’s this need to shorthand everything,” he says. ”But this [show] isn’t easily classified. It’s comedy, romance, action-adventure, and, dare I say, maybe even a musical. It metamorphosizes every week.”

The shape-shifting project began last year when CBS-TV prez Les Moonves told Caron, ”’We’ll pretty much let you do whatever you want,”’ says the exec producer. ”Nobody had said that to me in quite a while.” The result is a series inspired not by The Six Million Dollar Man or even Seconds, John Frankenheimer’s creepy, eternal-youth-themed 1966 film, but the musical Damn Yankees, whose essence Caron sums up as ”No sooner does this guy in his 50s get his wish to play baseball for the Washington Senators than he realizes what he really wants is to be back home with his wife.”

To that end, look for Michael to balance crime-fighting duties with attempts to contact his family, which suits Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) just fine. ”It’s not too rough having a dad who looks like Eric,” she jokes. As for the angel-faced Close, last seen in CBS’ The Magnificent Seven, he still can’t believe he wrangled the role. ”I think when Glenn was looking for the ‘perfect body,’ he was stretching when he chose me,” he says. All modesty aside, his character does boast some pretty impressive powers: He’s got superhuman strength and lightning-quick speed. Plus, he can hold his breath for six minutes and 11 seconds, a strategy he’ll employ when confronting the show’s first recurring nemesis — the Eggman, whose primary lethal weapon is deadly-gas-filled ova. Still, Close admits to feeling a pang of envy when it comes to a certain ’70s TV crime fighter. ”Lee Majors was too cool,” he says. ”I don’t have super eyesight or that awesome sound when I jump, so I’ve got a ways to go before I can fill those shoes.” — SHAWNA MALCOM

MISSION HILL
The WB, 8-8:30 p.m. Debuts Sept. 21 at 9 p.m.

CONCEPT Cartoon from Simpsons alums (Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein) about jaded big-city Gen-Y-ers.
THE SCOOP ”We first pitched it to NBC,” admits Oakley. ”They thought the characters were losers.” Hey, losers are great American archetypes! Anyway, ”The WB loved it exactly the way it is,” he says. ”Something we’re doing that no other animated shows are doing is playing on the conventions of cartoons,” offers Weinstein. ”So when someone falls down the stairs, it’ll be in a cloud of dust, or when someone is in love, hearts will come out of their head.” Didn’t the Road Runner cover that years ago?
BOTTOM LINE Turns out even The WB’s cartoon youngsters are whiny and self-absorbed.

THE BADLAND
Fox, 8-9 p.m. Debuts Oct. 15

CONCEPT Nineteen-year-old rookie cop busts Philadelphia perps — from the people behind the recent feature film The Negotiator.
THE SCOOP The pilot, directed by F. Gary Gray, is a tense take on a cop coming-of-age, and Sean Maher as Ryan Caulfield is suitably wide-eyed in the face of death and a vomiting suspect. Says Maher, “He has a hard time with what he sees. We’re sensitizing violence, not desensitizing it.” As for preparing for his first television role, Maher admits, “I learned how to shoot a gun — I did, uh, well. I’m going to do a little more shooting.” In other words: Clear the set! Sean’s got his gun again!
BOTTOM LINE Says Ryan at one point, “It’s not like you see it in the movies; you have to smell it,” and he ain’t talking about a Philly cheese steak. If the show can juggle director Gray’s bloody grit with Ryan’s innocence, it’ll be a good male-friendly alternative to Providence.

LOVE & MONEY
CBS, 8:30-9 p.m. Debuts Oct. 8

CONCEPT Rich girl (Paget Brewster) in Manhattan penthouse falls for the super (Brian Van Holt); her family, led by Sisters‘ Swoosie Kurtz and M*A*S*H‘s David Ogden Stiers, disapproves.
THE SCOOP The producers recast the role of the super after the pilot was shot, usually a sign that a show’s shaky at best. But in this case, the premise and supporting cast are so strong, it may not hinder the comic momentum. Certainly Kurtz is enthusiastic. Of her tipsy-dowager role, she says, “This part really spoke to me — I loved the writing. In fact, I loved it so much I didn’t think it would be picked up.”
BOTTOM LINE Let’s hope her vivaciousness spreads to the younger cast members; as it stands, only Kurtz and Stiers are a stitch.

ODD MAN OUT
ABC, 9:30-10 p.m. Debuts Sept. 24

CONCEPT Beleaguered sixteen-year-old boy (Erik von Detten, above) lives with his mom (Markie Post), three sisters, and an aunt, and amuses himself by making jokes about needing sex. This is the network’s new TGIF entry?
THE SCOOP Avers executive producer John J. Strauss, “It’s a challenge, because TGIF traditionally is a more immature venue. But ABC is making a real effort to try to broaden the demographic there, and they’ve really encouraged us to adultify — if there’s such a word — the stories.” Note to Strauss: That’s not a word.
BOTTOM LINE With lines such as “It’s like an estrogen minefield around here,” and a subplot involving a condom, Odd Man Out should make the Sabrina kiddie audience disappear fast.

COLD FEET
NBC, 10-11 p.m. Debuts Sept. 24

CONCEPT The misadventures of three peppy, preppy couples living in Seattle.
THE SCOOP Executive producer Kerry Ehrin explains the concept: “One couple is inching toward maybe moving in together; another couple is becoming a family and kind of redefining what that means; and another is heading toward a crisis point and maybe becoming single.” NBC’s hoping the series will attract female Providence fans (even though there’s a Dateline wedged between the shows), and costar Jean Louisa Kelly says, “There’s a definite female perspective, but there’s also a male perspective because you get to see women being the way that we can be.” Huh?
BOTTOM LINE Pilot peaks with one of the guys standing outside naked, pitching woo with a rose sticking out of his posterior. For this NBC killed Homicide?

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