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TELEVISION REVIEW

Turning back the clock

Though stylish, 'Tru Calling,' with its familiar plot points, truly lives in the past.

October 30, 2003|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

In "Tru Calling," a supernatural whodunit -- or "who'll-do-it" -- premiering tonight on Fox, former second-string vampire slayer Eliza Dushku plays Tru Davies, a med-school-bound college grad who gets a summer job in the city morgue. Her first night at work, which also happens to be the 10th anniversary of her mother's murder, she is improbably left alone on the graveyard shift -- alone, that is, except for all the corpses, one of whom opens her eyes to plead, "Help me." (The dead are not long on conversation.)

And suddenly, Tru is propelled back in time to the beginning of her day, which she will spend literally running around town -- she was a track star in college, we are told, though if this keeps up she may want to invest in a car, or at least a bus pass -- in an attempt to keep that potentially dead woman alive. Something of the sort will happen every week until the show itself is packed off to the morgue.

The culturally informed reader will have noticed, even from this brief synopsis, that what we have here is "The Sixth Sense" meets "Run Lola Run" meets "Early Edition" meets every movie or television series where someone travels into the past to fix the future, from the "Terminator" franchise to Rocky and Bullwinkle's "Mr. Peabody." (And according to copywriters at Fox, it also "combines the sexiness and speed of 'Alias' with the procedural crime format of 'CSI.' ") Producer-writer Jon Harmon Feldman, a veteran of "Dawson's Creek" and "Roswell," is the Frankenstein who has sewn all these parts together. As with his predecessor's monster, there are sutures showing, though its gait is not ungainly and it knows, in an elemental way, how to talk.

In time-twisting exercises like this, it is best not to worry too much about logic, and go with the flow. There are some effective girl-in-peril moments, the odd passage of effectively creepy suspense. The pilot was directed by Philip Noyce, who has made some very good movies ("The Quiet American") and some less good ones ("The Saint"), and one might say that he is working his full range here. The dialogue is serviceable but does not crackle.

Dushku is really the only reason to stay tuned, and for many fans of Faith, the stake-pounding adrenaline junkie she memorably played on "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," that will be reason enough. With her rock-chick's croak and her tangled hair and lips so brightly glossed she might be getting kickbacks from Kiehl's, she is an attractive presence -- if not quite yet a character. Tru is less complicated, which is to say less interesting, than Faith: just an average, good-hearted girl who hears dead people, with the typical cokehead lawyer sister (Jessica Collins), slacker gambler brother (Shawn Reaves), chirpy best friend (A.J. Cook), and a boyfriend whose very face and every utterance says, "gone by the second episode." Indeed, she is well enough adjusted that she never seriously entertains the possibility she might have lost her mind, though, of course, other people do.

Zach Galifianakis, as her boss down at the morgue, has a rumpled, nervous charm that is the show's secondary pleasure. He either gets the best lines -- "Most girls as pretty as you that come here, well, they're dead" -- or knows best what to do with them.

As to why any of this is happening at all, there are passing hints of cosmic wheels turning unseen. There are wheels turning, of course, but they are not cosmic, and you can hear them creaking from here.

*

`Tru Calling'

Where: Fox

When: Thursdays, 8 p.m.; premieres tonight

Rating: The network has rated the series TV-PG-V (may not be suitable for young children, with an advisory for violence).

Eliza Dushku...Tru Davies

Jessica Collins...Meredith Davies

Shawn Reaves...Harrison Davies

Zach Galifianakis...Davis

A.J. Cook...Lindsay

Creator-writer Jon Harmon Feldman. Executive producers Feldman, Marty Adelstein, Neal Moritz, Dawn Parouse and R. W. Goodwin. Director (tonight's pilot episode) Phillip Noyce.

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