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TV Review: 'Odyssey 5' gets an impressive launch on Showtime

Friday, June 21, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Showtime's new original series "Odyssey 5" begins as an action-adventure story reminiscent of "Armageddon," takes a right turn down Sci-Fi Street and then makes a beeline for an "X-Files"-like alien conspiracy.

In tonight's 95-minute pilot, at least, those jarring shifts work to surprise viewers. "Odyssey 5" comes loaded with potential which may or may not pay off down the line. Either way, it gets off to a better start than Showtime's most recent sci-fi entry, the dismal "Jeremiah."

 
 
TV REVIEW

ODYSSEY 5'

WHEN: 10 tonight on Showtime.

   
 

Aboard the space shuttle Odyssey, mission commander Chuck Taggart (Peter Weller) and his crew go about their work for NASA, deploying a satellite. It's a slightly improbable group, particularly because it includes Chuck's 22-year-old son Neal (Christopher Gorham of The WB's "Popular"), a rookie mission specialist. It's hard to imagine NASA sending a father-son team into space, let alone someone so young.

The rest of the five from the show's title include mission pilot Angela Perry (Tamara Craig Thomas), Nobel-prize winning behavioral geneticist and all-around rapscallion Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roche) and the first journalist in space, Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva).

Mendel is the show's successful stab at comic relief, a sex-obsessed guy with a witty sense of humor. He irks Forbes when he uses sexually charged language to describe his scientific experiments during one of her live broadcasts.

As the report ends, their contact with Earth is abruptly cut and they look out the shuttle's windows to see a blinding light. Earth has been destroyed, the shock wave travels through space and hurls the shuttle about, forcing the cast to do a patented "Star Trek" toss-about.

"It just occurred to me, this is one scenario NASA really forgot to program into the simulators," Mendel notes with dark humor after the ship is under control.

An encounter with an alien being sends the crew members' consciousnesses back five years in time into their bodies of that era. This maneuver gives them time to uncover the cause of the Earth's destruction, which the alien Seeker (guest star Sir John Neville) suggests is an extraterrestrial conspiracy.

The time trip also gives the characters the opportunity to reevaluate relationships and try to do things better. Chuck goes easier on his other son, Marc (Ken Mitchell); Sarah attempts to prevent her son's death from cancer and Mendel tries to profit by betting on a football game whose outcome he knows.

In addition to their personal lives, the five still consider themselves a crew on a mission, investigating the origins of a secret Department of Defense satellite they deployed in space just before Earth's destruction.

Weller is well cast as a commander, and Silva is an especially welcome presence. She appeared in the first season of "Providence" before her character was dropped. She brings a palpable anguish to her character, who retains her religious beliefs despite overwhelming grief caused by the death of her son.

"Odyssey 5" contains premium cable-sanctioned profanity, but it's not as gratuitous as in "Jeremiah" nor as pervasive as on HBO's "The Wire."

Press notes indicate the personal lives of the characters will predominate with their serialized investigation popping up every so often. Future episodes also include shuttle missions.

Where the "Odyssey 5" conspiracy story leads is anyone's guess, but if first impressions are any indication, this series bears watching.

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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