On the premiere tonight of NBC's "The Powers of Matthew Star," said powers of said Star don't really get much of a workout. Oh, he stops a runaway schoolbus at one point, dodges a few autos tossed his way during a climactic junkyard battle with a beach boy from Star's home planet, and uses his telekinetic gifts to take out the trash. But that's about it.
No E.T. he.
Indeed, the powers of Matthew Star and "The Powers of Matthew Star" both seem pretty motley. NBC is giving the film an advance "preview," at 8 tonight on Channel 4, in the hope of snaring a few viewers while "The Dukes of Hazzard" is still in reruns. The ploy's the thing in television; the show, in this case, is the artistic equivalent of a passing remark overheard on the subway.
Louis Gossett Jr. does give the hour some dignity as Walt Shepherd, who came with young Matthew (Peter Barton) from the planet Quadris as his guardian, and is sworn to protect the lad during his brief de Tocqueville on Earth. Gossett completed this pilot film before winning critical and popular acclaim for his role in "An Officer and a Gentlemen," and if he's lucky, the series will expire so quickly that no one will ever quite remember he was in it.
On Quadris, we are told, the pulse rate is 12 beats a minute and technology is 1,000 years ahead of Earth's. So why leave? Some sort of Quadrisian political chicanery forced the two travelers to flee, hotly pursued by their enemies, two of whom arrive in a giant espresso machine at the start of tonight's episode. The one affecting moment on the program is when a USAF general who's been following Matthew and his guardian around the country, suspecting they are what they are, is told by Gossett that it's true, that the general is having a close encounter of the third kind. He looks so happy.
Otherwise, the wonderment level remains awfully low, and the special effects are parceled out parsimoniously. Barton himself, injured during filming last year -- thus postponing the series until this season -- is mildly personable but also slightly wimpy. He looks like a stretched-out version of the no-neck monster who appeared on the CBS fantasy flop "Mr. Merlin" last year, and he has enough hair on his head to carpet a small bathroom.
Perhaps he will become just terribly, terribly famous, but not as a result of this show.