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On the Tube: 'Farscape' is the evening's standout; 'Nikita' heats up Sunday

Friday, January 05, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's a banner weekend for fans of TV shows in the sci-fi/fantasy/adventure genre, with several season and series debuts.

Judging by this weekend's spate of premieres, returning series are off to a running start, while several new programs rehash well-trodden ground.

'Black Scorpion'
(8 tonight, Sci Fi Channel)

Calling this super hero show a "rehash" is one of the kinder things that can be said about this low-budget series (Roger Corman is listed as one of the show's creators). It attempts to be funny and fails at almost every turn. It attempts to be exciting, but how excited can viewers get about a paint-by-numbers plot?

Former Miss Kansas Michelle Lintel stars as the title character who's a cop by day, super hero at night. Her partner is played by the answer to this trivia question: Whatever happened to the guy who played Nick, Mallory's boyfriend on "Family Ties"?

The sad answer: Scott Valentine is doing time as Miss Kansas' partner on this tacky, unfunny, predictable waste of an hour in prime time.

'Farscape'
(9 tonight, Sci Fi Channel)

Returning for the last four episodes of its second season, television's best science-fiction series remains in top form. The show's typically lush production design/special effects and high caliber character development/plotting are on display as the restless crew tries to save the enslaved son of D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe).

Along the way, they're reunited with an old friend, rob a bank and join forces with creatures they encountered during the show's first season. The episodes also deal with human John Crichton (Ben Browder) and the visions he keeps having of the evil Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), who planted a chip in his head.

The season finale, airing Jan. 26, ends with a cliffhanger that sets the stage for several new story arcs when the third season begins March 16. There are moments of heavy emotion as one of Moya's crew departs for "Farscape" heaven. Don't get too choked up though -- this is science fiction, so the odds of a resurrection are pretty good.

'The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne'
(10 tonight, Sci Fi Channel)

High praises can't be sung for "Jules Verne," a low-rent fantasy series about the young science fiction writer (played by Chris Demetral of "Dream On").

The series posits Verne didn't just write fantastic stories, he also experienced them first-hand in adventures with Phileas Fogg (Michael Praed), a character from Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days," and Fogg's cousin, Rebecca (Francesca Hunt), the first female British Secret Service agent.

Tonight's dull premiere doesn't explain any of that and doesn't show the characters meeting. Instead it's a pulpy prelude that features Fogg's guilt-ridden flashbacks while Verne gets kidnapped by a leather-faced bad guy who tries to suck Verne's fantastic ideas out of his brain.

These "Adventures" should have remained a secret.

'La Femme Nikita'
(10 p.m. Sunday, USA Network)

The fans cried for more, and USA will deliver eight additional episodes that conclude the saga of the waif recruited into Section One, a big bad spy agency.

When last viewers saw Nikita (Peta Wilson), it was revealed that she'd been spying on Section One for Center, a bigger, badder spy agency. As a result, Madeline (Alberta Watson) committed suicide, weapons expert Walter (Don Francks) was transferred to another agency and Nikita's beloved, Michael (Roy Dupuis), got sent on a suicide mission.

Because it's an abbreviated season (and to save money, no doubt), not all the series regulars will appear in every episode. The opening credits are now reduced to just four cast members, with past series regulars, including fan favorite Dupuis, returning for cameo appearances.

In Sunday's "Deja Vu All Over Again," Nikita is working with Center's Mr. Jones (Carlo Rota), who has promised to tell her why she was recruited into Section One lo those many years ago. But before he does, he sends her back to Section on what's supposed to be a temporary basis, but it becomes more permanent by the end of the episode.

"Think of Gilbert & Sullivan," Mr. Jones tells Nikita when he reassigns her to working with Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer) in Section. "They hated each other, but they made beautiful music together. So will you."

At Section she's paired with a new partner, O'Brien (Stephen Shellen). He and Nikita have a history: She recruited him into Section One four years ago.

When it began, "La Femme Nikita" was an intriguing blend of girl power action-adventure, mystery and romance, but now the seams are showing.

For every mystery that's solved, another question is raised to the point where it's getting ridiculous. Later this season Nikita discovers Mr. Jones isn't the head of Center. He has a boss, played by guest star Edward Woodward ("The Equalizer"). If the ratings are high enough and "Nikita" returns for further adventures, maybe Woodward's character will have a boss, too.

Although filmed in Toronto, everyone and everything on "La Femme Nikita" looks menacing and vaguely German (black suits, stark white walls, Euro-trashy glasses). It's the kind of spy shop where Dieter would feel at home.

No matter. It will all be over soon.


Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.



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