Watching the first episode of "Crusade" (premiering at 10 p.m. Wednesday on TNT), I looked for any hint of what went wrong with this show. Was it really so awful TNT would shutter production after only 13 episodes and before any of those aired?
No, it's not terrible. But the first episode of "Crusade" isn't particularly remarkable either. The premiere introduces new characters, but there's not enough time to establish much about their personalities.
As Capt. Matthew Gideon, commander of the warship Excalibur, Gary Cole comes off as the second coming of "Babylon 5's" Bruce Boxleitner. He's fine, but doesn't stand out.
Viewers learn the least about Galen, played by Peter Woodward. Galen is one of a rare order of humans and aliens who use advanced technology to simulate the effects of magic. He's the most mysterious character on "Crusade," and therefore the most intriguing.
Galen poses a question to Gideon that also appears in the opening credits and serves as creator J. Michael Straczynski's theme for the series: "Who do you serve, and who do you trust?"
Galen and the alien Dureena (Carrie Dobro) were introduced in "A Call to Arms," the "Babylon 5" movie that set up the premise for "Crusade." "A Call to Arms" repeats at 8 p.m. Wednesday just before the "Crusade" premiere.
Other "Crusade" characters include second-in-command Lt. John Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim), biogeneticist Dr. Sarah Chambers (Marjean Holden), cranky archaeologist Max Eilerson (David A. Brooks) and former "Babylon 5" regular Capt. Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins, who doesn't appear in the first "Crusade" episode).
The crew's mission: Within five years they must find a cure to the Drakh plague that threatens to destroy all life on Earth, a quarantined planet in 2267. The Excalibur searches the galaxy for the cure, and it's a smart-looking ship for the task.
What the premiere lacks in character development, it makes up for in production design and visual effects. The ship's interior looks sturdier than Babylon 5, whose walls often appeared to be made of cardboard, and the planetscapes -- created using advanced computer graphics -- shimmer.
It's just too bad "Crusade" hangs in limbo. Maybe there will be more episodes, but probably not on TNT. The actors are only under contract until mid-July, so decisions will need to be made quickly if the series is to continue.
With "Babylon 5," Straczynski proved his skill at telling complex stories using characters of depth. In crusading for control of this new show, he may have won the battle for 13 episodes with his uncompromising vision, but lost the war to create a long-lasting, durable series.