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On the Tube: 'X-Files' creator digs into another dark tale of dubious reality in 'Harsh Realm'

Friday, October 08, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Has anyone seen Diane English lately?

I ask because I'm beginning to think Chris Carter may be headed for a similar fate -- the one-hit wonder.

English created "Murphy Brown" and was hailed for her skill as a show runner. Then she created the stink bomb "Love & War" and flops "Double Rush" and last fall's "Living in Captivity."

Carter became a media sensation when he created "The X-Files," but his "Millennium" didn't survive long enough to reach its namesake. Carter tries again with Fox's "Harsh Realm" (tonight at 9 on WPGH), but "The Matrix" already told a similar story and told it better than the "Harsh Realm" pilot.

In "Harsh Realm," U.S. Army Lt. Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow) is "the one." He's picked by a colonel (guest star Lance Henriksen of Carter's "Millennium") to participate in a simulated war game, code name: Harsh Realm.

Hobbes sits down to watch a video (narrated by Gillian Anderson of "The X-Files) about this virtual reality war program. When the tape abruptly stops -- surprise! -- he's in this other world, a perfect replica of every place and everyone he knows and loves.

But Hobbes doesn't know where anyone's loyalties lie, all he knows is that he has to take out Omar Santiago (Terry O'Quinn), the ruler of Harsh Realm. Along the way he meets up with another grunt (D.B. Sweeney) previously sent into HR and a mysterious forest nymph (Rachel Hayward) with healing powers who thinks Hobbes is "the one" who will free the inhabitants of HR from Santiago.

Hobbes also encounters a virtual dead ringer for his fiancée (Samantha Mathis).

But if most of these HR characters are virtual, why should we care? And if the show is playing out inside Hobbes' brain, why do any of the events depicted matter?

Presumably future episodes will answer those questions, but the pilot exudes lots of flash (many things blow up, lots of gunfire) and little heart. The characters lack any spark of life and depth.

Maybe I'm being overly harsh in my assessment of Carter's new "Realm." It may improve like its time slot and sci-fi competitor, CBS's "Now and Again." I wasn't wild about that show's pilot either, but last week's episode picked up the pace and gave the series direction.

"Harsh Realm" could improve. But at this point dark conspiracies and paranoia have become tiresome. How many viewers will stick with "Harsh Realm" to a point it starts to make sense?

"Love & Money"
(CBS, 8:30 p.m.)

A throwback to sitcoms of yesteryear, there's something likable about this fairly generic comedy about a building superintendent in love with a young woman who lives in the penthouse.

While love birds Allison (Paget Brewster) and Eamon (Brian Van Holt) are twentysomethings, it's the more seasoned actors who know how to wring laughs from a line, even when the dialogue is predictable.

Swoosie Kurtz and David Ogden Stiers play Allison's filthy rich parents and it's clear they're having a blast. Kurtz got practice wandering about with a champagne glass as the richest of the "Sisters," and she's game for another bout here. In a scene from next week's episode she writes letters, but asks the maid to lick the stamps.

John Livingston steals scenes as Allison's ready-with-a-quip brother Nicky. Tonight Allison has second thoughts about her wedding when Eamon re-enters her life. Her father, unaware of their past affair, asks Eamon to help get his daughter out of a locked bathroom.

Nicky wanders by, revealing Allison's feelings for Eamon, and, he adds, "Jobless son: 1, Tyrannical billionaire father who can't express his love: 0."

Van Holt replaces Dash Mihok (Ben's swim team buddy last season on "Felicity"), who played Eamon in the original pilot. Mihok had a scruffy charm Van Holt lacks. Usually recasting on a TV series makes sense, but not in this case.

No matter. "Love & Money" won't go down in TV history for any reason, and given its time slot, it probably won't last long. But while it's on, "L&M" offers at least a few laughs in an otherwise laughless TV season.

"Millennium: A Thousand Years of History"
(CNN, 10 p.m. Sunday)

History buffs take note: CNN begins another mammoth 10-part series this weekend. Each one-hour episode will chronicle a century's worth of history beginning this week with the 11th century in "Century of the Sword."

Actor Ben Kingsley narrates "Millennium," which he describes as "history from a global perspective, not through the eyes of the West."

Like last year's CNN epic "The Cold War," "Millennium" benefits from a beautiful opening credits sequence of lush music and soaring computer animation that spans recognizable sights around the globe.

Since there's no film available for nine of the 10 programs in this series, "Millennium" relies on illustrations mixed with footage from today, animation, dramatic reenactments and what looks like scenes from films depicting the period.

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

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