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Published: Monday, 7/17/2006

Sci Fi's 'Eureka' more strange than quirky


The new lighthearted drama Eureka wants so badly to be a sci fi-tinged Northern Exposure.

Premiering at 9 p.m. tomorrow on cable's Sci Fi channel, the show features a fish-out-of-water U.S. marshal Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), who gets stuck with his juvenile-delinquent daughter (Jordan Hinson) in a Pacific Northwest town full of oddities and oddball characters.

But Eureka just doesn't rise to a Northern Exposure level of quality. The characters, though strange, are cookie-cutter weird - not original or quirky. There's a strange scientist, an arrogant scientist, a smart engineer, and a butch female deputy, but none rises much above these simple descriptions.

Only in the closing scene of the two-hour premiere is there even a hint of mystery about one of the characters, a revelation meant to draw viewers back for more episodes. It brings to mind an X-Files conspiracy more than it does the gentle whimsy of Northern Exposure.

Viewers learn in the first episode, scripted by series creators Andrew Cosby and Jaime Paglia, that the town of Eureka became a government stronghold after World War II when President Harry Truman commissioned development of a top-secret lab, staffed by Albert Einstein, that would "protect and nurture America's most valuable intellectual resources." A community, home to scientists and their families, grew up around the Advanced Research Facility.

Cosby and Paglia seed the pilot with hints of romantic entanglements to come between Jack and government liaison Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) or Jack and psychotherapist Beverly Barlowe (Debra Farentino). But there aren't enough connections among the town residents to make Eureka the credible community the show's creators envision.

Sci-fi fans will be pleased with some of the casting choices, including Farentino (Earth 2), Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) as a "biological containment specialist" and Joe Morton (Terminator 2) as the local mechanic/brilliant engineer. It's just a shame they haven't been given more multidimensional roles in a series that strives for greatness but sadly falls short.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com

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