By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; C07
One of the advantages of living in a small town populated by the world's smartest people is that even the cook in the local greasy spoon can somehow concoct anything you order.
Fugu-sashi, salt-crusted yams and shaved white truffles are miraculously created with ease by a smarty-pants chef in tonight's "Eureka," Sci Fi's quirky new series about a town of geniuses working on top-secret government science projects.
But life in the fictional Eureka also means enduring the explosions emanating from the basements of mad scientists, dodging the occasional stray black hole and, in tonight's pilot episode at least, being at the epicenter of the apocalypse.
So it goes in "Eureka," the network's first Earth-based series that just might have those who've never watched Sci Fi scrolling their channel lineups to find it.
If you're a regular viewer of the network -- whose hits include "Stargate: SG-1" and "Battlestar Galactica" -- be glad there's plenty of sci-fi to be found on "Eureka." And if Sci Fi's not on your TiVo, be glad that the show is driven more by characters than special effects (and so-so special effects at that).
From a slightly insane dogcatcher (Matt Frewer), whose weapons of minor destruction can sever the limbs of livestock, to a sultry B&B proprietor/psychotherapist (Debrah Farentino) whose client list includes the president, Eureka is a town awash in eccentrics.
Holding it all together is the appealing Colin Ferguson, who plays befuddled U.S. Marshal Jack Carter.
Carter happens upon Eureka after he and his rebellious daughter get into a car accident just outside the city limits. When they reach downtown, he approaches a youngster, no older than 10, for directions. His bicycle basket holds a textbook for theoretical physics.
When Carter's daughter calls the boy an Einstein, he responds, "I'm an Oppenheimer. The Einsteins live on Fourth."
The first hour of tonight's two-hour pilot episode sets the stage in a brisk and mysterious fashion. Ferguson's deadpan expressions match his dry humor, but he is appropriately wide-eyed as his character stumbles upon one oddball occurrence after another.
Tonight, Carter comes across an RV severed by one loose-screw scientist's time-bending invention. And then there's that patch of forest full of dead cows courtesy of our dogcatcher (in the show's most visually stunning scene).
Veteran actor Joe Morton is another bright spot, playing Henry Deacon, the town's auto mechanic, who is used to working on far more complex vehicles.
"I was an engineer back in the day," Deacon tells Carter when they meet.
Deacon: "Space shuttles."
Morton's character is instrumental in resolving tonight's plot, which gets a little muddled. One of the town's geeks has created a machine that sends objects hurling faster that the speed of light, but since this against the laws of physics, the end is near.
"What the hell's going on?" Carter's daughter asks him.
"Ah, there's this machine and a missing formula and science stuff I can't explain," Carter replies.
The same might go for viewers when it comes to the plotline.
But an episode involving a "Men in Black"-like memory-wiping machine is a bit easier to follow for those who are less than science-savvy.
In the end, it's Eureka's townsfolk who keep the common viewer intrigued.
Eureka (two hours) debuts tonight at 9 on Sci Fi.