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TV Review: Tarzan conquers Manhattan

Sunday, October 05, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The WB has a mixed track record reviving old franchises. The network breathed new life into the Superman saga with "Smallville," the story of Clark Kent's teenage years as he begins to discover his super powers. But last fall the Frog network bombed with "Birds of Prey," an effort to create a series in the Batman universe of Gotham City.

"Tarzan"

When: 9 tonight on The WB.

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Sarah Wayne Callies, Mitch Pileggi.

The network's latest, "Tarzan," lands closer to the "Birds" end of the spectrum, at least in its premiere episode tonight at 9. It's a retelling of the Tarzan tale, this time set in the urban jungle of Manhattan.

The back story: Greystoke Industries CEO Richard Clayton (Mitch Pileggi, "The X-Files") spent years searching for the wreckage of the plane that presumably killed his brother's family. But he discovered his nephew, John Clayton, survived, and his time in the jungle led the boy to evolve into Tarzan, played by hunky Australian Calvin Klein underwear model Travis Fimmel.

Richard brings Tarzan back to Manhattan and keeps him under lock and key. Viewers meet Tarzan as he's strapped to a table and a doctor prepares to draw blood. Big mistake. The jungle man roars, knocks his captors down (somehow he learned kickboxing moves in the jungle) and escapes into the Manhattan streets, where he appears altogether comfortable eating alongside a pack of dogs.

This is where he meets his Jane (Sarah Wayne Callies), a New York cop who chases him, only to almost fall from a building. Tarzan saves her, then stares at her and cocks his head to the side like a curious animal.

Jane is smitten by this gentle giant and probably not just because she recognizes him from his underwear billboard in Times Square. But, as in all WB romances, there are complications to this "Beauty and the Beast" relationship. Jane is already dating star police detective Michael Foster (Johnny Messner), who has just suggested they move in together.

Tonight's debut is dark and brooding and a little boring, too, as the cops track a one-dimensional serial arsonist freakazoid.

Despite being underwhelmed by the premiere, I'm not ready to write "Tarzan" off just yet. This summer, producers promised the series will gain more depth as it moves forward. The second episode of "Tarzan" was unavailable for review, but its script reveals some potentially interesting machinations, particularly dealing with the Clayton clan.

Richard has been in a power struggle for control of Greystoke with his sister, Kathleen (Lucy Lawless), a publishing magnate. Plot twists also reveal how producers contrive to keep Tarzan and Jane from becoming a couple too quickly.

As Tarzan, Fimmel certainly has the physical presence required for the role. Having been raised in the jungle, Tarzan doesn't speak much, which probably works to the actor's advantage.

"I hunt," he tells Jane in one of his longer monologues. "I hunted for you."

Fimmel wasn't hired for his acting, but for his beauty and his effectiveness at sniffing his co-star in a way that's more seductive than creepy.

As Jane, Callies seems like an odd choice, but I can't put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it's that she's not as pretty as her co-star or because she doesn't yet exude much in the way of a personality (blame the writing, in part, for that). Or maybe, by the standards of most WB women, she's not vulnerable enough. That's likely to be rectified in future episodes. given some changes being made in the direction of the series.

This version of "Tarzan" was written and developed by Eric Kripke, who is new to television, having penned screenplays for several unreleased big studio movies. So far, the writing and plotting in "Tarzan" are fairly unexceptional, adhering to typical TV formulas (much of what happens in the pilot gets repeated next week).

Maybe that will change, maybe it won't. Then again, viewers who tune in to ogle the frequently shirtless Fimmel are unlikely to care.


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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