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Dueling specials force TV viewers to make tough choices

Wednesday, February 17, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post- Gazette TV Editor

This happens every sweeps month. There's always one night, more than any other sweeps night, when the networks conspire to drive viewers insane: too many shows to choose from.

The season premiere of "Daria," MTV's animated comedy about a sullen teen, airs at 10 tonight. Airing at the same time is the first part of "Law & Order"/"Homicide" crossover. 

Tonight is just such a night when "very special" episodes of TV shows collide.

At 8 p.m., Part 2 of a revealing "Dawson's Creek" (The WB did not make a tape of the episode available for review) goes up against the first hour of a two-hour "Star Trek: Voyager" on UPN. At 10 p.m. the season premiere of "Daria" on MTV faces off against the first part of a "Law & Order"/"Homicide" crossover.

The same thing happened this past Sunday when the first night of "Stephen King's Storm of the Century" on ABC battled the conclusion of Fox's "X-Files" two-parter that promised answers to five years of questions.

Set your VCR and carve out time to catch up on TV viewing this weekend:

TV Listings

"Star Trek: Voyager" (8 p.m on WNPA)

In the first two-hour "Voyager" TV movie since the pilot episode back in 1995, the crew once again battles those nasty cybernetic space villains, the Borg.

"I think it's time to do a little assimilating of our own," says Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) as she orders an offensive to raid a Borg ship and steal transwarp technology that would allow Voyager a quicker trip home to Earth.

But wouldn't you know, reclaimed Borg, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), starts hearing the voice of the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson replacing the movie's Alice Krige) who coerces her to "rejoin the collective and we'll spare Voyager."

In reintroducing the Borg Queen without explanation (she was last seen ground to little pieces in the movie "Star Trek: First Contact"), "Voyager" again falls prey to a maddeningly consistent "Star Trek" foible: lack of continuity. Is there more than one queen? How is that possible? Evidently logic is irrelevant.

The "Dark Horizon" movie offers an interesting parallel between the influence of the Borg Queen on Seven and the influence of Janeway, but it's only touched on. There are also flashbacks to when Seven was a human child, Annika Hansen, and the way her exobiologist parents tracked the Borg like Diane Fossey tracked gorillas.

Yet this "Voyager" episode can't conjure the same kind of fear and shock as "The Next Generation's" "Best of Both Worlds" (the Borg assimilation of Capt. Picard) because we've seen this done before and better. As always, the show is hampered by a lack of character development (only Seven and Janeway stand out) and an obvious calculation that because fans liked the Borg Queen in the movie, surely they'll like her again in the TV show.

While the syndicated "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" always gets treated as the ugly stepchild by the overseers at Paramount, a lack of creativity and plodding storytelling make "Voyager" better suited for that unfortunate distinction.

"Law & Order" (10 tonight on WPXI) and "Homicide" (10 p.m. Friday on WPXI)

In what's become an annual TV event, this season's "Law & Order"/"Homicide" crossover finds the New York legal show and the Baltimore cop show taking on a Kenneth Starr-like independent counsel who's depicted as relentlessly evil.

This may make "Law & Order" executive producer Dick Wolf and "Homicide" executive producer Tom Fontana feel like they've done their liberal duty to castigate Starr, but it doesn't make for great drama when a character is so one-dimensional he does everything but twirl his mustache.

Fortunately, there are enough twists and turns in the plot that the absurdity of this character doesn't get in the way of a taut, compelling two hours of television.

The story begins tonight on "Law & Order" with the murder of a Baltimore woman, whose body is found in New York.

"You know the drill," says Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson). "Give our friends a call."

"Homicide" detectives Munch (Richard Belzer) and Sheppard (Michael Michele) travel to New York for the investigation, but they're soon headed to Washington, D.C., with Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) and Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) to interview a bevy of witnesses as they play connect the dots.

At this point independent counsel Brian Dell (George Hearn) enters the picture and starts handing out subpoenas like they're gumdrops. McCoy is forced to testify before a grand jury despite promises of anonymity to a witness.

Friday's "Homicide" picks up the story with a quick Munch-provided recap of what transpired on "Law & Order."

"That ain't a movie, it's Court TV," says Det. Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson), a nod to cable's new home for "Homicide" reruns.

What makes these episodes so successful is the way each retains its own identity, and particularly how "Homicide's" recurring stories continue to develop even in the face of a crossover.

Munch learns the painful truth about the extent of his FBI file on tonight's "Law & Order," while Friday's "Homicide" continues to deal with the fallout over Det. Sheppard's recent beating and the addition of an FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito) to the squad room.

So much story is juggled that the labyrinthine plot threatens to topple under its own weight. Still it it manages to remain coherent. Together or apart, "Law & Order" and "Homicide" continue to challenge viewers hungry for quality drama.

"Daria" (10 p.m. on MTV)

MTV's animated comedy about a sullen teen and the cool people who annoy her returns for its third season with a musical episode. Yes, even monotone Daria herself joins in on the production numbers, although she speak-sings most of the time rather than carrying a full-out tune.

The episode kicks off with a rousing chorus of "Morning in the 'Burbs" and continues at school when the principal cancels a football game due to an approaching hurricane.

"Down on your knees and pray," Daria and her best bud Jane sing, "that this town blows away."

Just as "Daria" is all about the anti-cool kids in class, this show is the antithesis of everything else on MTV. Instead of being shallow, it's layered. Instead of a "Real World"-esque show, this week's has music.

Music back on MTV? Now that is a "very special" half-hour of television.

Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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