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'X-Man' and 'Matrix' merge for new sci-fi series

Friday, October 05, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Ah, mutants. They're suddenly hip after the success of the "X-Men" movie last summer. Hence viewers get "Mutant X" (6 p.m. tomorrow, WCWB), a new hour-long syndicated series produced in association with Marvel Comics.

The movie people who made "X-Men" think "Mutant X" infringes on their copyright, and they may be right. Then again, who can put a copyright on mutants?

 
 
The delayed premieres of three new comedies on The WB will air tonight. Read last month's review.

   
 

Filled with "Matrix"-style martial arts action that might make you think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Mutant," "Mutant X" stars John Shea (Lex Luthor on "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) as Adam, leader of Mutant X. They're the good mutants.

The bad mutants are led by Genomex security chief Mason Eckhart (Tom McCamus), a guy with a bad skin condition and an Andy Warhol-inspired hairstyle. Genomex was the front for the Genetics Security Agency, which created men and women with genetic mutations that give them superhuman powers. Eckhart is charged with tracking down these mutants and keeping their secrets hidden from the public.

Presumably each week there will be some sort of showdown between mutants of varying stripes, but the premiere episode (Part 1 of two) is most concerned with introducing the characters.

Newcomer Emma (Lauren Lee Smith) is a "telempath" just learning about her powers. Jesse (Forbes March) is a sensitive tough guy prone to wearing sleeveless sweaters, Shalimar (Victoria Pratt, "Cleopatra 2525") is territorial and Brennan (Victor Webster, "The Lot") can shoot bolts of electricity.

It's all a bunch of hooey, but it's fairly well-packaged hooey as cheesy syndicated shows go.

"Mutant X" will regularly air at 9 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 22, but it's pre-empted this week by hockey. On upcoming Saturdays with hockey games, "Mutant X" will air at 3 p.m. Sundays. A second late-night run airs weekly at 12:30 a.m. Monday.

'Life 360'
(9 tonight, WQED/WQEX)

I'll admit I was skeptical of PBS' efforts to create a newsmagazine. Why bother when there are already too many on TV? Hasn't PBS had enough trouble in recent years with cable networks encroaching on its territory, whether it's science programs or British mysteries?

But PBS managed to find a niche, creating a series with a different theme each week that runs through various reports, monologues and video essays by its varied correspondents.

Tonight's premiere focuses on "Six Degrees of Separation" and the connectedness of the human experience. Actress/writer Anna Deavere Smith performs one of her monologues, in this one playing a Jewish woman who seeks help from an African-American boy.

A mildly annoying comedian/actor, using goofy animated visuals, shows how the Internet connects people and determines, "The more strangers you talk to, the less strangers there will be."

Up 'til this point, I was unimpressed, but the longest segment of "Life 360" had an impact. "Ripple Effect" explores the lives of men who were in the Vietnam War. All of them attribute their survival to William Pitsenbarger, an Air Force enlisted man who died in April 1966.

"If not for Pitsenbarger's selflessness, I wouldn't be here," says the son of one of the vets. Though the segment goes on too long, it's thought-provoking and touching in ways "Dateline NBC" can only dream to be.

By concentrating on smart, theme-driven segments that don't rely on the sensational, "Life 360" makes a place for itself in the overcrowded TV magazine universe.

'Skate'
(11:30 a.m. tomorrow, WPXI)

The latest TNBC series is set in the world of teen skateboarding, and its stories are merely a framework to show as many skating tricks as possible.

Josh (Christopher Jorgens) is the series star, an aspiring pro skater who can sometimes be a little too into himself. His friends Dim (Jorgito Vargas Jr.) and Michelle (Adrienne Carter) try to be understanding.

"Dude, I was a punk," Josh says to Dim. "Straight up, I'm sorry."

No, it's not intended to be a comedy, but the show skates close to unintended self-parody in its efforts to sound hip to the lingo of today's kids.

The episode sent for review has a fine moral -- breaking and entering is bad, no matter how many free skateboards it may get you -- and "Skate" smartly shows skateboarders wearing all the necessary protective gear.

Some parents will still find themselves agreeing with Michelle, who watches her younger brother on a skateboard and says, "He's so going to have brain damage."

'The West Wing'

Phew.

Wednesday's episode of NBC's "The West Wing," rushed into production following the terrorist attacks last month, mercifully did not turn out to be writer/creator Aaron Sorkin's effort at setting national policy.

Instead it was a stagey, talky college lecture given by the show's characters and expressing every conceivable viewpoint and passing judgment on none of them. Well, except Leo (John Spencer). It was obvious early on he would be the show's patsy, forced to apologize to an Arab-American after displaying willful intolerance.

If that was the show's most rote, predictable element, scenes of White House staffers talking to students after the building went into lock-down mode were the highlight.

Josh (Bradley Whitford) created an analogy (Islamic extremist is to Islamic as KKK is to Christianity), C.J. (Allison Janney) extolled the virtues of spying and Toby (Richard Schiff) spoke on behalf of civil liberties. It was all written in Sorkin's breezy, hyper verbal style that makes even a play-like episode entertaining.

The show's most dissonant note came in the opening moments as the cast addressed the camera and previewed upcoming episodes that would deal with repealing the estate tax, funding the NEA and a fight against tobacco. Then Donna (Janel Moloney) chimed in, "And I get a boyfriend."

Others have written that Sorkin doesn't treat his female characters with respect. That Donna's social life would be included in a litany of Serious Topics lent additional support to that perception.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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