"Smart kids give me a pain," moans the adult hero of NBC's new "Voyagers!" But smart kids will probably enjoy, and may even painlessly learn something from this new fantasy adventure series, premiering tomorrow evening at 7 on Channel 4. In two-set households, adults can watch "60 Minutes," and children can watch "Voyagers!" and both be entertained by clever escapism laced with traces of reality.
Obviously, "Voyagers!" owes its existence to the success of the motion picture "Time Bandits." In the premiere, an 11-year-old orphan is sitting in his room when a stranger drops in from another dimension. Seems Phineas Bogg has mis-set his magical "omni" and tumbled into 1982 instead of 1492. He has a book of instructions with him, but when he and the boy subsequently tumble out the window and back into limbo, the book stays behind, in the boy's dog's mouth.
It may have been a mistake to send the tot out into the world for a kid-aimed series like this and not send the dog along, but the show is plenty cute without him. The two time travelers do a live-action version of the Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoons on the delightful old "Bullwinkle" show; the omni is their Way-Back Machine, and it takes them to Egypt circa 1450 B.C., where they spot Moses floating in the bulrushes; World War I, where they engage in aerial combat with The Red Baron; and Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903, where they patch up a spat between Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Jon-Erik Hexum, who plays Bogg, and the presumably one-and-only Meeno Peluce, who plays the kid (he was the funny child grouch last year on "Best of the West"), are actually touring not the world but a studio backlot, of course; they go not so much from country to country as from standing set to standing set, with dollops of stock footage dropped in. Still, the production is quite handsome by TV family-fare standards, and though one tires quickly of hearing Hexum use "bat's breath!" as an expletive, "Voyagers!" is largely a joy ride from start to finish.