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TV Reviews: Two new shows have nothing new to offer

Sunday, January 26, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Near the end of tomorrow's premiere of the adventure series "Veritas: The Quest," teen-ager Nikko Zond (Ryan Merriman) gets demanding with his father, archaeologist Solomon Zond (Alex Carter).

"Veritas: The Quest"
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on ABC
Starring: Ryan Merriman, Alex Carter, Eric Balfour.

"Miracles"
When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on ABC
Starring: Skeet Ulrich.

"What the hell is going on?" Nikko almost shouts. "I have a right to know!"

It's a sentiment viewers will share. "Veritas" is from the writers of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and it makes as much sense, which is to say, not much at all.

Nikko, a disrespectful teen, resents his father's career and misses his presumed dead mother. He and Ephram Brown from The WB's "Everwood" could be best buddies, commiserating on their familial misery.

Kicked out of school, Nikko ends up tagging along on one of his father's archaeology missions, which turns out to be a continuing quest to learn what happened to Nikko's mom, whose body was never found. Anyone else think there's a "very special episode" coming soon where mom turns out to be alive, "Alias"-style?

The father-son spat isn't as nuanced or interesting as the one on "Everwood" and Nikko isn't as sympathetic. He's an obnoxious troublemaker at the start, though he becomes more amiable as the show goes along.

"There's nothing important about archaeology," he tells his father. "It's for people who are too interested in the dead to remember the living."

Nikko particularly perks up when his father hires a comely tutor, Juliet (Cobie Smulders), to keep an eye on his son. Nikko clearly intends to keep an eye on Juliet; more than an eye if he gets the chance.

His father's crew of archaeologists come up against a crew of bad guys, whose motivations are never made clear. They're just evil. Nor do viewers learn who Zond works for himself. It's not mysterious, just annoying and seemingly unplanned.

"I don't know exactly what we're looking for," Alex tells his son. "It's about knowledge and power that will lead us to some truth about us as humanity, who we are, where we come from, where we're going."

That sort of nebulous answer makes me think producers can't decide what their show will be about beyond generic, hokey, "Indiana Jones"-inspired sci-fi or fantasy.

'Miracles'

One of the most frustrating things about covering television is to see talented people toil on series that squander their talents.

David Greenwalt, a talented writer who co-created Fox's "Profit" and The WB's "Angel," was brought onto ABC's "Miracles," a series created by Richard Hatem(writer of "The Mothman Prophecies"), after the pilot was filmed.

Some tweaking was done to the premiere that airs tomorrow (a tape sent out for review was marked "Version 6"), but it still lacks Greenwalt's touch. That's sure to come in future episodes, but by then, how many people will be watching?

In the first 10 minutes of the premiere, viewers see a man impale his hand on a rusty nail and a needle plunge into the perfectly preserved eye of an exhumed human body. The gross-out factor is likely to lead to a high tune-out. If not that, a slow-paced, quiet story and downer denouement should do the trick nicely.

Too bad, "Miracles" has a workable concept that's pretty timely for the zeitgeist. It's a religious "X-Files" starring Skeet Ulrich -- a less skanky Johnny Depp lookalike -- as Paul Callan, a Catholic priest who investigates modern miracles. Tomorrow's premiere begins with Paul debunking the reasons a nun who's been dead 140 years remained perfectly preserved (something to do with preservatives from apricot trees).

But Paul's faith is shaky.

"I feel like a doctor who never cures people," he tells Father Poppicalero (guest star Hector Elizondo). "I just show up, deliver the bad news and move on."

Paul, beginning to doubt the existence of God, takes a leave of absence from the church, but gets called back to investigate a little boy who heals people even as he dies from a rare, unexplained disease. Finally he has a case he can't dismiss, but the church refuses to sign off on his miracle for lack of evidence. Paul quits.

Religious themes, particularly the nature of belief, frequently were part of "X-Files" stories, so this isn't uncharted territory. But in its earliest, best years, "X-Files" was always entertaining, even when it was murky. The "Miracles" pilot, at least, is so subdued, a story so limply told, it's difficult to muster enthusiasm for tuning in again. Quiet psychological drama worked in "Mothman" where viewers were trapped in a theater, but a weekly series needs more momentum to encourage repeat viewing.

That said, I'm willing to give Greenwalt a chance to work his magic in future episodes as Paul joins forces with another paranormal investigator (Angus Macfayden) and a former cop (Marisa Ramirez), who believe the end of the world is near. Unless other viewers have similar patience, "Miracles" will need a miracle to survive.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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