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On the Tube: UPN's 'Freedom' is a futuristic fight fest

Friday, October 27, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Attention paranoid militia members: This show's for you!

UPN's violent fight fest "Freedom" stems from the premise that America goes to hell and the only way the government can regain control is to impose martial law. It works, but at a price.

"It was peace without freedom," a narrator says as the show begins. "And that was a price some of us would not pay."

Two years later, four former soldiers are arrested and sent to prison for unexplained treasonous activities. Most of them won't go without a fight, which involves gunshots and many scenes of malicious (and ridiculous) hand-to-hand combat. Somehow these freedom fighters manage to defy the laws of gravity, leaping, soaring and kicking their opponents "Matrix"-style.

Owen Decker (Holt McCallany) gets sent to prison after he and his infant son watch Decker's wife die. In jail he meets Becca (Scarlett Chorvat), James (Carius McCrary) and Londo (Bodhi Elfman), who is this show's Howling Mad Murdoch. That "A-Team" reference is appropriate because by the end of the pilot, "Freedom" looks to be an update of that 1980s series, only with less humor and more violence.

Actually, "Freedom" has moments of humor (the resistance fighters are locked up in William Jefferson Clinton Federal Prison), but it's fleeting. Why waste time going for a laugh when you could show a guy getting a good pummeling?

The foursome escape from prison, get manipulated into doing a job for a top government official and then look like they'll be free-lance resistance fighters in the future.

Given the network's reliance on "WWF Smackdown!" for a ratings fix, "Freedom" seems right up UPN's gutter. But a natural fit does not a good show make.

"Freedom" premieres at 8 tonight on WNPA.


"Level 9"

Airing opposite the surprise hit of the fall, CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," UPN's techno cop drama "Level 9" will face an uphill battle. And it doesn't get off to a promising start.

Tonight Tim Guinee stars as L.A. cop John Burrows, who infiltrates Level 9, a rapid response strike force that fights high-tech crime. Though Burrows is a major part of the action tonight, don't get too attached.

"You're not Level 9, Burrows, you're a visitor," says Level 9 boss Annie Price (Kate Hodge). And so, it turns out, is Guinee.

Originally intended as the series lead, he'll disappear after tonight's episode. Max Martini joins the Level 9 team next week as street smart Jack Wiley.

But tonight Burrows is the fish out of water. The Level 9 operatives work with him grudgingly after a cyber criminal named CrayZhorse wreaks havoc. CrayZHorse is an unseen puppeteer -- a lot like Jack of All Trades was on NBC's "Profiler" -- out to make life miserable for Annie.

One of his soldiers, the Mailman, delivers deadly packages to people who are supposed to be protected by the Federal Witness Protection program. The Mailman (John Ventimiglia) whistles "A Bicycle Built for Two" before each of his dastardly deeds, confirming the "Level 9" writers as rip-off artists inspired by HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

What's really sad about "Level 9" is its pedigree. John Sacret Young, best known for the excellent "China Beach," is a "Level 9" executive producer. How the once talented have fallen.

Instead of a complex drama set during the Vietnam War, Young is now overseeing a show where people shout nonsense like, "Kill the port and reset the terminal!" Then the person who is unable to kill the port and reset the terminal responds, "Dude, it's not letting me do anything!"

The surf dude, Travis (Fabrizio Filippo), at least has a back story. He was once a CrayZhorse protege and has potential to break out the way Johnny Depp did on "21 Jump Street."

But don't hold your breath, at least not the way a Level 9 computer expert does when she gets stuck in a chamber after alarms go off and a vacuum sucks out all the air. I still don't know why this happened (there was no fire), but the one good thing about "Level 9" is that it gives me absolutely no reason to care.

It airs at 9 tonight on WNPA.


"Stephanie"

Subtitled "A Story of Transformation," this locally-produced program transfers a photography exhibit on a woman who survived breast cancer into a moving, hopeful 30-minute documentary. Squirrel Hill's Stephanie Byram tells her own story, accompanied by the photographs of Charlee Brodsky.

Some of the photos of Byram's bare chest after surgery are stark and graphic, but cancer does a graphic number on the body. Seeing the pictures are a necessary part of Byram's story, because when she saw the pictures, her life was transformed.

Former WQED producer Mary Rawson produced "Stephanie" (in the interest of full disclosure, it's worth mentioning she's married to Post-Gazette theater critic Chris Rawson), and it's an intimate story, not of the battle against cancer, but of cancer survival and how disease can reshape a life.

It airs at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on WQED/WQEX.


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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