If young Ed, who just celebrated his 20th birthday, doesn't find the mad scientist who implanted a fatal microchip in his brain during the next year, he'll be a drinking-age farm-buyer, a twentynothing can-kicker, dead at 21 .
Judging from the kickoff of "Dead at 21"--MTV's first attempt at an action-adventure series--it's going to be a long year, for Ed (Jack Noseworthy) and anyone watching this strained high-concept combination of "The Fugitive" and "D.O.A." Please, MTV, doesn't "Dead at 20 1/4" have just as nice a ring?
Ed's birthday is one of those good news/bad news days. First he has the swell fortune to find a slightly punky-looking gal he's never met before, Maria (Lisa Dean Ryan), in his bedroom, crashing his party and waiting to seduce him apparently at random. They've scarcely had a few moments to exchange postmodern romantic-comedy repartee when another party crasher--a young fugitive with a shotgun--leaps through Ed's sliding-glass window, followed in short order by a slick-haired government hit man.
The kid gets blasted, but not before handing Ed a crucial videotape. Our hero does what anyone would in the situation: noisily burglarizes a Silo store to play the tape, in which it's revealed that both he and the dearly departed were part of a "neurocybernautic" lab test to artificially increase intelligence. From all outer indications, the experiment was a bust, but never mind: Framed by the government for murder, Ed goes on the run, joined on his cycle by Maria, who explains, "I got nothing better to do"--a hopeful projection of the target audience's \o7 Weltanschauung\f7 if ever there were one.
Both romantic leads are impressively big-lipped but hardly equipped to blow life into the dialogue. (Second-episode sample: "I'm filthy!" "That's what I like about you!" "I'm serious!" "Me too!") But long chats are naturally kept to a minimum as the series focuses on wacky visual stylization--including some Ed hallucinations right out of a '60s "trip" movie--and a nonstop barrage of usually inappropriate alternative-rock hits as scoring.
The mind wanders toward an even higher concept--maybe combining MTV's previous, truly successful serial, "The Real World," with this one, selecting real Gen X-ers to place in mortal jeopardy. Just a thought.
\o7 * "Dead at 21" premieres at 11 tonight on MTV. Its normal time slot will be Wednesdays at 10 p.m.\f7