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The Dead Zone

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Anthony Michael Hall, The Dead Zone
The Dead Zone Photograph by Jeffrey Newbury

The Dead Zone‘s Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) awakens from a car-crash-induced six-year coma to discover he can see visions of people’s past, present, and future. With his naturally battle-scarred complexion and spooked-out orbs, Hall looks like he’s been in a long-term coma. Since his days as John Hughes’ resident geek god, he’s gained heft as an actor, literally and figuratively. His Johnny isn’t as creepy as Christopher Walken’s was in David Cronenberg’s 1983 film version (inspired, as is the series, by Stephen King’s novel), nor should he be; would you want to invite a Walken zombie into your home every week? Hall even tosses off a few one-liners with an old pro’s comic timing. Temporarily rehired at the Maine high school where he used to teach science, Johnny disarms unruly students with this quip: ”I may just be your worst nightmare — a substitute teacher with extra-sensory perception.”

The show’s most affecting subplot involves the sprightly Nicole deBoer (”Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) as Johnny’s ex-fiancée, Sarah, who gave up hope and married the town’s foursquare sheriff (Chris Bruno) — but not before bearing Johnny’s namesake son. Such a triangle may be a soapy cliché, but it’s played with real conviction by Hall, deBoer, and ”All My Children” alum Bruno. If only John L. Adams (as Johnny’s physical therapist/man Friday) and ”M*A*S*H” vet David Ogden Stiers (as a shady reverend who became the coma victim’s legal guardian) had equally well-defined parts.

Created by father-and-son ”Star Trek” scribes Michael and Shawn Piller, ”The Dead Zone” has used Hall’s powers to spin a clever variation on ”12 Angry Men” — Johnny must convince 11 other jurors of a defendant’s innocence based solely on his psychic insight. Yet another episode relied too heavily on corny 1940s flashbacks as Johnny helped a WWII vet find his long-lost love (the dialogue was straight out of a Jon Lovitz-Phil Hartman ”SNL” old-movie parody: ”Man oh man, a dolly just walked in to beat the band!”). Cripes!