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On the Tube: Luke Perry starts the world over after the 'Big Death' in 'Jeremiah'

Friday, March 01, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Luke Perry is always Luke Perry. That's pretty much the extent of his range. Sort of like Bruce Willis, Perry's too-cool-for-the room, laid-back image is something he can't (or won't) out-act.

He got closest to breaking the Perry mold in his role on HBO's "Oz," but in the new Showtime series "Jeremiah" (8 p.m. Sunday) he's still exuding the full Perry, talking in his nonchalant, head-nodding near-monotone.

Created by "Babylon 5" impresario J. Michael Straczynski, Perry stars as Jeremiah, who lives in a near-future world where "the Big Death" killed off everyone who had reached puberty.

"We've all been abandoned," Jeremiah says. "The whole world is an orphanage."

Jeremiah is part of the first generation growing up since the Big Death, which has rendered society, well, pretty much like the post-apocalyptic society on Fox's "Dark Angel." There's no government, bartering is key, and marauding gangs wander the streets causing trouble.

This world is the least interesting part of "Jeremiah." The more intriguing component comes in the second half of Sunday's 90-minute pilot when Jeremiah and his newfound friend Kurdy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) discover a movement that seeks to rebuild society.

Jeremiah has his own quest. He mourns the death of his little brother and continues to seek out Valhalla Sector, a place of safety his father once mentioned. These serialized elements of "Jeremiah" show the most potential.

Kurdy doesn't seem to have any messy, underlying motivations. As played by a jovial, winning Warner, Kurdy is the comic relief, the more personable and emotional of the pair.

As road-trip shows go, "Jeremiah" pales especially compared to Showtime's last series in the genre, the enjoyable "Going to California," which has been canceled.

"Jeremiah" is based on a graphic novel by Belgian author Hermann Huppen and it sometimes gets a little graphic. In the pilot, especially, Straczynski goes wild with the profanity and nudity, indulging in the freedoms of a premium cable network such as Showtime.

The network, for its part, plays fast and loose with its ability to rate the show anything it wants. Sunday's premiere gets a TV-14 even though it contains nudity and multiple uses of the F-word that warrant a TV-MA.

In its ongoing effort to assure no viewer will ever get hooked on a Showtime series, the network will air subsequent episodes of "Jeremiah" Friday nights with the idiotic start time of 10:45 p.m.

'No Boundaries'
(7 p.m. Sunday, The WB)

Forsaking dating and teen pop reality shows for a more blatant "Survivor" rip-off, The WB pushes a group of people -- mostly in the network's 18-34 key demographic -- to extremes as they trek from the Pacific Northwest to the Arctic Circle.

The winner will get $100,000 plus a new Ford Explorer, a vehicle promoted under the slogan "No Boundaries," hence the title of this Ford-sponsored show.

It purports to be a kinder, gentler reality show, but with limited back stabbing, watching "No Boundaries" is often like watching overgrown kids at camp or in gym class.

What "No Boundaries" lacks in production values -- it just doesn't look as good as "Survivor" -- it makes up for in more extreme challenges. An upcoming episode shows the remaining competitors swinging like a pendulum against a rock face to capture flags, which is more compelling than, say, standing on a pole, a typical "Survivor" challenge.

But overall, "No Boundaries" feels more like an MTV production -- "Road Rules" comes to mind -- than a must-see, backbiting-filled reality show of the caliber of the original "Survivor" or "The Amazing Race."

'Monica in Black and White'
(10 p.m. Sunday, HBO)

Other than stirring up prurient interest, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to dredge up the tale of the affair between Monica Lewinsky and President William Jefferson Clinton.

In "Monica in Black and White," the famed intern tells her story to an audience of New York college students. Taped last April after she was allowed to discuss aspects of her case without restriction following the expiration of an agreement with independent counsel Ken Starr, Lewinsky goes from laughing to crying within a minute. Sometimes she doesn't understand why the audience laughs at things she says.

At the same time, she displays a self-deprecating sense of humor, invoking the name of snitch Linda Tripp when her microphone gives feedback.

"Black and White" is mostly 100 minutes of rehash with a pulse-pounding soundtrack, but there are some revelations, most notably that nothing about this case was black and white. There were many shades of gray.

The program is, by its nature, one-sided -- Monica's side -- and paints her in a relatively sympathetic light. But it's not completely biased. Whether you think Lewinsky is vixen or victim, there's evidence to support your view. Whether you think Clinton is scum or was entrapped, there's evidence to support your view.

If nothing else, "Monica in Black and White" is a psychologist's dream, given the characters involved and their myriad of motivations.

Lewinsky's initial reaction to Clinton's invitation to his back office, after she declared her crush on him: "Well, I'm young, it's the president, he's cute, it's kind of cool. Irresponsible, but cool."

Lewinsky says her relationship with a married high school teacher set her on the road to becoming Clinton's something-something on the side.

"Having had that relationship, it made me very comfortable with the notion it was OK to be with a married man. [I thought] maybe I wasn't good enough to be with anything better," Lewinsky said.

She says she kept her stained dress from a sexual encounter with Clinton "the same way you treasure a sweaty T-shirt from a rock star at a concert."

Audience members pull no punches in their questioning. One accuses Lewinsky of using the HBO platform to spin the story her way. Another asks, "How does it feel to be America's premiere [oral sex] queen?"

There are Lewinsky sycophants, too: "I just want to say, I support you 100 percent," one young woman says. "And, like, I don't think anyone should judge you."

But TV viewers are human, and there's no doubt many viewers will tune in to reinforce their opinion of Lewinsky, whatever it may be.

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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