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Television Review: 'Rangers' spinoff may need to fight to be worthy

Friday, January 18, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Creating a science-fiction series is tricky business.

Even after you strike the right balance between action and character drama, there are inevitable comparisons to the granddaddy of the genre, "Star Trek."

    TV review


WHEN: 9 p.m. tomorrow on Sci Fi Channel.


That's something "Babylon 5" endured for a good while until fans and critics both realized it was entirely different. "B5" was smart, exciting sci-fi with a serialized through-line that gave you reason to tune in every week.

"B5" gave birth to "Crusade," a stillborn follow-up that aired briefly on TNT. Now there's the possibility of another spinoff.

The Sci Fi Channel premieres "Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers" (9 p.m. tomorrow), the pilot for a proposed series set in the "B5" universe.

Created and written by "B5" maestro J. Michael Straczynski, "Legend of the Rangers" benefits from some intriguing new characters, mostly decent acting and an OK, if not incredible, story.

It also suffers from a clunky setup that bogs down many pilot episodes as it attempts to introduce characters, plot, story arcs, etc. None of the characters here are named Basil Exposition (a la "Austin Powers"), but the dialogue sometimes gives off that vibe.

Dylan Neal (Deputy Dougie on "Dawson's Creek") stars as David Martel, a human member of the Rangers, an elite, mysterious fighting force. The Rangers proclaim, "We live for the one, we die for the one."

Another rule they live by: "We do not break away from combat, we do not retreat, whatever the reason."

In a combat situation, Martel realizes adhering to that tenet is a pretty good way to get your crew killed.

"We don't die stupidly," he says before retreating to the great shame of some of his fellow Rangers.

Martel's decision is brought before the Minbari Gray Council, who are about to drum him out of the Rangers when G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas), an alien character familiar to "B5" fans, shows up to defend him.

"It doesn't just say, 'We die.' It says, 'We live,' " G'Kar points out.

Martel remains a Ranger, but he's given an old, haunted starship to command and sets off on a mission escorting alien ambassadors to a conference.

If "Legend of the Rangers" becomes a series, it will follow Martel and his crew, which includes the sensible Dulann (Alex Zahara), the feisty Na'feel (Jennie Rebecca Hogan), monosyllabic comic relief alien Tirk (Gus Lynch) and human Sarah Cantrell (Myriam Sirois).

Cantrell is the ship's weapons officer and gets stuck with this show's cheesiest gimmick. Rather than touching a button to fire weapons, Cantrell jumps into a virtual reality shaft and hurls fireballs from her hands and feet while it looks like she's flying through space. I kid you not.

It looks completely ridiculous, an idea that might only work in a novel where you don't actually have to see it.

Neal slides into the captain's role with ease, mingling Martel's youthful inexperience with common sense leadership skills. Zahara is especially likable as Martel's friend Dulann, a sounding board and confidant. Sirois tries too hard to be the tough grrl and her punching and kicking in the VR environment makes matters worse.

As a longtime "B5" fan, I'm probably willing to give this spinoff more of a chance despite this middling pilot. Creator Straczynski has a track record that warrants the benefit of the doubt that he could create another compelling series set in the amazingly well-drawn "Babylon 5" universe.

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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