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On the Tube: Supernatural 'freaks' keep the twists coming in 'The Others'

Friday, February 04, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

I see freaky people.

That could, understandably, be the reaction to NBC's "The Others," a supernatural series premiering tomorrow at 10 p.m. on WPXI.

Though it looks a whole lot like the summer blockbuster "The Sixth Sense" - folks with strange powers communicate with dead people - "The Others" was in development long before that movie became a hit. The series could have been ready for NBC's fall schedule if the network had wanted it then.

Like "The Sixth Sense," "The Others" is genuinely creepy, the characters involving and the plots take surprising twists. Naturally, it's bound to fail since it airs following lowest-common-denominator thrillers "The Pretender" and "Profiler."

In tomorrow's pilot, viewers get to meet the psychically gifted oddballs along with their newest recruit, Marian Kitt (Julianne Nicholson), a college junior who keeps running into the ghost of a dead woman in her dorm room bathtub.

Marian is recruited by Miles Ballard (John Billingsley), a professor of mythology and folklore who serves as cheerleader and documentarian for The Others, even though he has no psychic abilities himself.

TV Review
'The Others'

When: 10 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

This group of unusually gifted people, who call themselves "freaks," meet regularly to discuss their psychic investigations and help one another whenever possible.

Elmer Greentree (Bill Cobbs) serves as the group's spiritual leader, figuratively and literally. He's an elderly famed medium who can see his own upcoming death.

There's also crotchety Albert (John Aylward from "ER"), a blind man with a sixth sense; really weird Warren (Kevin J. O'Connor), who gets the 411 from the other side but can't process the information; Satori (Melissa Crider), a New Age "sensitive"; and Mark Gabriel (Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Gabriel Macht), an empathetic medical intern.

The Others help Marian solve the mystery of the dead girl in her dorm room - what the deceased wants, how she died, etc. - and then Marian joins the group, pitching in with her ability to see the past and the afterlife.

I don't want to say "The Others" moves at a slow pace, because it's not slow in the sense of boring, but it is deliberate and purposeful. A quick pace wouldn't build the kind of atmosphere this show needs.

Although some of the psychic babble is overdone and the scenes of people floating in the afterlife could have been shortened, "The Others" benefits from excellent sound effects editing. Never has a draining bathtub sounded so ominous.

A future episode features The Others investigating the death of a young father and his son while his grieving widow searches for answers. It's affecting, but rather dreary and depressing. And if you're home watching TV on Saturday night, isn't that depressing enough?

John Brancato and Michael Ferris, writers of the feature films "The Game" and "The Net," created "The Others," but the show is executive produced by Glen Morgan and James Wong, who wrote for "The X-Files" and "Millennium" and created Fox's "Space: Above and Beyond." Morgan and Wong excel in creating chilling scenes, but they're also attuned to nuanced characters.

They're aided in their efforts by two talented veteran actors, Cobbs and Aylward. The former brings dignity, while the latter adds levity to the show's frequently heavy tone.

But the character at the crux of the show is Billingsley's Ballard, a nerdy everyman who probably wishes he had supernatural powers but contents himself with hanging out with those who do.

Billingsley brings a gentleness to the role, making the character believable, decent and a surrogate for the audience. He watches The Others with amazement, and so will viewers.

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

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