Usually saying a TV show emphasizes "style over substance" isn't much of a compliment. But in the case of USA's new original series "GvsE," the style is so overwhelming, the unoriginal substance doesn't matter.
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When: 8 p.m. Sunday on USA
At its core, this show about two guys fighting evil on behalf of God -- or as they say, "the big guy upstairs" -- is a routine buddy comedy-drama, pure and simple. But "GvsE" (as in "good vs. evil") has a strange, intoxicating look, sound and feel. "GvsE" looks like it was shot on washed-out film, features "Pulp Fiction"-style dark humor and fashion sense and includes narration (think: the balladeer on "Dukes of Hazzard") by NFL legend Deacon Jones.
Clayton Rohner stars as Chandler Smythe, a newspaper reporter who gets assigned a temporary gig back on Earth (he may not get into heaven right away due to selfishness). Smythe gets recruited into the Corps, where he's paired with veteran agent Henry McNeil (Richard Brooks). Their goal is to track down and rehabilitate or kill anyone who's made a Faustian bargain with a Morlock, an agent of evil.
Smythe and McNeil are assigned to Hollywood, where there are more deals with the dark side per capita than anywhere on Earth. A Corps representative reports Don King, Sen. Orrin Hatch, LeAnn Rimes and Gavin McLeod (Capt. Stubing on "The Love Boat") are among those who have made deals with the devil to secure their fame and fortune.
Evidently Jane Fonda, wife of rival cable executive Ted Turner, is in cahoots with the devil, too: "It has nothing to do with Vietnam. How do you think she got the role in 'Barbarella?'"
Smythe learns the rules of the Almighty's limbo-land: no sex, no contact with those you knew in life, no special powers -- you can die. Rule No. 2 proves the most troublesome because Smythe has a juvenile delinquent son he worries about -- especially after the kid steals McNeil's orange Volvo station wagon.
The Aug. 1 episode, "Buried," features Smythe trapped in a buried coffin for the hour while McNeil searches for him, using Morlock agent Emmanuel Lewis (the star of "Webster") as a bargaining chip to ensure Smythe's release.
"GvsE" was created by Josh and Jonas Pate, brothers who made a splash in the indie film world with their 1996 movie "The Grave." They wrote and directed Sunday's pilot, and Josh wrote and directed "Buried." They seem to have found their calling with this basic cable series, which could easily become a cult hit.
An interesting aspect of "GvsE" is its use of profanity. There is some, but you don't hear it. Rather than using a bleep, there's just no sound. At first I thought the sound on my video tape was cutting out until I realized it was deleted profanity. Somehow that draws less attention and made me less sure of exactly what word was being bleeped than this fall's Fox comedy "Action," which is rife with bleeped curse words.
To be sure, there's a fair amount of violence in "GvsE" (Morlocks can only be killed by a special knife) and 8 p.m. is too early for it to air. But the story (especially in "Buried") takes so many surprising twists and turns that it proves a kicky treat that's far superior to last summer's dismal USA original series, "The Net."
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or email@example.com.