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TV REVIEW : New 'Star Trek' a Passion Pit Lost in 'Deep Space'

January 05, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bill Clinton may or may not have picked a cabinet that "looks like America," as promised, but the creators of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" have picked a team of Starfleet officers for their new galactic outpost that looks like the universe, or at least someone's idea of its diverse future demography.

Look, Ma, almost no white-male humans!

Despite the guiding absence of the late Gene Roddenberry, who left the galaxy before the premise for the third live-action "Star Trek" series was in place, this "S.T." is as pointedly P.C. as its message-heavy predecessors. But if tonight's solemn yet perky premiere (at 8 p.m. on KCOP-TV Channel 13) is ample indication of its future pacing, there won't be much time for the show to get bogged down in its own progressive pontification. Fast and furious with the exposition and Sci-Fi-losophy 101 expostulation, it may be the briskest two-hour TV pilot on record.

So brisk, in fact, that non-Trekkers may not be able to tell the Cardassians without a score card (no reassuringly familiar Klingons or the like here). "Next Generation" buffs will be pleased with the unpatronizing rapidity with which creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller plunge viewers into this new outer-space passion pit; everyone else might do well to consult with the neighborhood conventioneer beforehand.

"Next Generation's" Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) is on hand as a guest star to provide a smooth transition. As smooth as can be, anyhow, considering that he was-- key the conflict music --indirectly responsible some time before for the death of the wife of "Deep Space Nine" Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks), as seen in a flashback prologue.

A reluctant and bitter Sisko has been appointed by an impassive Picard to take charge of the title space station, a run-down and looted piece of hardware orbiting the distant planet Bajor. Said station was recently deserted by the villainous, furrowed-brow Cardassians, who subjected the native, furrowed-nose Bajorans to a hundred-year reign of terror; plenty of representatives of both warring factions are still around, and none too forgiving. Can you say 24th-Century Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Our peacekeepers from the Federation represent all types, if not a corrective to previous mortal-male-dominated "Trek" crews, so get your score card out: Sisko--a black earthling who's one of the few crew members sans makeup or appliances--is an intensely earnest, occasionally whimsical and frequently righteous Sidney Poitier type. The second in command, cute-when-she's-angry ex-Bajoran terrorist Maj. Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), is a shrill but likable Holly Hunter type with ridges in her nozz.

The babe-alicious science officer, android-alien hybrid Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), is a Lara Flynn Boyle type with a bad skin rash and a sentient worm in her abdomen. And security officer Odo (Rene Auberjonois) is a "morphing"-heavy shape-shifter, a la the "T2" villain but with a face right out of "Ratboy."

For continuity's sake, operations officer Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) has been lent out from "The Next Generation."

The debut has at least half-a-dozen plot strands going but focuses largely on the discovery near the station of a "wormhole," a sort of cosmic vortex through which ships can plummet immediately to far reaches of the galaxy. Sisko establishes a weird sort of contact with the wormhole's keepers, mystical "Orbs" who query him about the qualities of linear existence, something they're unfamiliar with in their timelessness.

The show ranks with primo philosophical "Star Trek" in the scenes where Sisko has dialogue with the Orbs, who take the hallucinatory form of figures from his past, and tries to explain the benefits of a life in which all moments are successive. "You value your ignorance of what is to come?" the Orbs ask, in earnest. It doesn't hurt too much that from the get-go the ultimate bittersweet moral of the story for our human hero-- don't live in the past --is obvious as can be.

Despite all the quantum metaphysics, there's no questioning the overriding hokum quotient in a show chock-full of such lines as "I have been fighting for Bajoran independence since I was old enough to pick up a phaser!" So it ain't "Solaris." It's soapy fun, flirts with actual ideas and has great stereo-surround effects during the explosions. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy "Nine."

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