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TELEVISION / The New Season

New With a Twist: Foxy Android and Dot.Com Detective

October 03, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Another season, another attempt by Fox--following such earlier efforts as "Millennium" and last season's "Harsh Realm"--to replicate the captivating gloom and occasional wit of its once-great weekly drama, "The X-Files."

Two more pretenders with a twist--"Dark Angel" and "FreakyLinks"-- arrive this week.

"I feel almost human," says the foxy android with killer lips in "Dark Angel." She's multiethnic Max (Jessica Alba), the snarling, super-strong kick-butt biker paired with crusading cyberjournalist Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly) in this appealingly murky series headed by James Cameron, writer-director of "The Terminator" and "Titanic," in his television debut.

You have the feeling, for specific reasons, that "Dark Angel" won't be taking one in the hull. How important is plot in this double-length two-hour premiere? There's a plot, too? Put it this way: If pouty faces and sexy walks could destroy, the highly arresting Max would be wiping out the entire planet.

And a mouth on her? You go, girl.

Meanwhile . . .

"They're not human!" wails a terrorized victim in "FreakyLinks," driven mad--do you hear, mad!--by the yet-unseen supernatural them that are going bump on the Internet, mystifying young Derek Barnes (Ethan Embry).

Derek may be TV's first dot.com detective in a series conceived by the producers of "The Blair Witch Project." He expands his business after finding his twin brother, Adam, dead, inexplicably submerged in a bathtub of water surrounded by scores of lit candles, which everyone knows is the calling card of the occult.

Yet if Adam is dead, then why does he keep reappearing and bugging Derek? And even more significantly, who lit all those candles, and why did they even bother?

"FreakyLinks" is nicely acted, at times amusing and stylishly made. It comes at characters from odd angles and shoots some of its story as hand-held home video, as Derek and his band of minicam commandos, including Adam's girlfriend (Lisa Sheridan), pursue the stupefying.

The premiere is mysterious without being suspenseful, though, and ultimately amounts to less than the sum of its videography. Yet this is one series that's worth tracking. Especially if, as a concession to heterosexual male fantasy, the producers can arrange a sort of "WWF Smackdown" pitting the premiere's merciless cyberbabe, who bats around poor Derek, against Max of "Dark Angel."

It's surely no coincidence, and perhaps an homage, that "Dark Angel" begins in Seattle in 2019, the same year that launches the complex detective story of human replicants in Ridley Scott's brooding "Blade Runner."

"Dark Angel" is hardly as original. Yet just as striking is its own film noir opening scenes that introduce a 9-year-old Max and her "siblings" as genetically enhanced prototypes escaping in the night from a secret laboratory operated in the Wyoming mountains by the ruthless Lydecker (John Savage).

Now flash forward. A once-incoherent narrative is beginning to clarify, as we learn that Max was part of an experiment to create a superior warrior or infantry soldier. In a sort of futuristic "Les Miserables" or "The Fugitive," Max will be spending this series on the lam from her own tenacious Javert in Lydecker, while also trying to reunite with those of her fellow lab creations not killed or recaptured while trying to escape years earlier.

Meanwhile, she earns her living as a messenger, while moonlighting as a cat burglar, which brings her into contact with Logan, an idealist who uses cyberspace to battle corruption and oppression in this economically depressed futuristic society.

Well, not all that futuristic, it turns out, for autos, soft drink machines and Laundromats look the same as in 2000, and people still use much of the same slang and street talk. In addition, "Dark Angel" at one point bogs down in a rescue as formulaic as any on the screen.

Yet on a more sensitive level, Max is able to evoke sweet, tender heartache for her fellow replicants in ways that transcend usual sci-fi drama. It's actually quite moving. And she looks great on her bike.

*

* "Dark Angel" premieres tonight at 9 on Fox. The network has rated it TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with special advisories for coarse language and violence).

* "FreakyLinks" premieres Friday at 9 on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children with special advisories for coarse language and violence).

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