Yes, it's true, the environment will be the issue of the '90s -- the one that inspires the largest amount of sanctimonious cant from America's vast population of celebrity phonies.
As a cause, ecology is both politically correct and conveniently innocuous -- a menacing new high in eye-glazer-overs. As proof of that, witness "E.A.R.T.H. Force," the wholly inert new CBS "environmental action drama" premiering as a two-hour movie at 9 tomorrow night on Channel 9.
Oh you'll be on the edge of your seat, all right -- searching under the cushions for the channel changer.
"Bring me an elite team of experts!" barks nasty industrialist Frederick Winter to his glamorous assistant Diana. Seems the fellow's reactor is on the blink and nuclear Winter only a sneeze away.
Dicey. Very dicey.
But quick like an Energizer bunny, an imitation "Mission: Impossible" team is assembled for the job: a two-fisted doctor who served in Vietnam; a pretty marine biologist who likes to go swimmin' with sharks; a crabby environmental activist who gives ecological lectures in jail when arrested for civil disobedience; and an "independent, reclusive" zoologist who can recite the ingredients of a Twinkie from memory.
Will there be a meltdown? Who the heck cares? Meltdowns may be terrible things, but they don't photograph very well. Zero suspense is generated as the team tackles the problem -- after a long prologue in which they argue about whether to work for a known polluter like this Winter creep.
Gil Gerard, as the doc, takes a deep breath -- well, not that deep -- and settles the matter. "We don't do it," he says, "we all go to hell!!!"
So they do it.
Now, on to the missing plutonium. Where might that be? It might be in the back of a bad guy's pickup truck as he hot-wheels it across the countryside. Meanwhile, back at headquarters, the activist is trying to "override the virus" in a sick computer.
Computer viruses are a lot like nuclear meltdowns -- not much to see.
But then, who needs to see anything when there's dialogue like this:
"The Parthenon is in ruins, but plastic is forever!"
"I can't believe you're buying into this load of corporate slime!"
"Mr. Winter, every doctor on Earth is an idealist!"
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on Crisis Standard Time!"
This last one sounds like the head of CBS addressing the stockholders. CBS has more truly bad new shows than any other network this year (including the semi-network, Fox), but even in this grubby company, "E.A.R.T.H. Force" kind of stands out. And alone. Way, way over there in the corner.
Gerard, as befitting his star status, gets the Big Speeches. "We've lived on this planet for 50,000 years, and in the last 200 nearly destroyed it!" he says. Just before the fade-out, he sounds another ominous warning. "It's a big world out there, and most of it's asleep," he tells his colleagues. "Hell, maybe we can wake it up! Let's give it a try!"
If anybody is asleep, it's the poor folks who endeavor to make it all the way to the end of "E.A.R.T.H. Force." With friends like this, the planet doesn't need oil spills.
Those who miss the wonderful "SCTV" television shows so much that they have vowed to follow its talented cast members wherever they go will have their passion severely tested by "Maniac Mansion," a pathetic new sitcom premiering at 7 tonight on cable's Family Channel.
"SCTV" alumnus Joe Flaherty stars in, and partner Eugene Levy helped create, this painfully embarrassing fantasy about a weird family whose house rests on a buried meteorite. Flaherty plays inventor Fred Edison, one of whose contraptions accidentally turns his brother-in-law into a fly and his 2-year-old son into a giant fatty.
The premiere is staged as Edison's dream; he imagines his family starring in a TV series about itself that is celebrating its 10th anniversary. This leads to some of the most awkward exposition imaginable and, worse, to a chillingly tasteless scene in which an aunt shows home movies of her trip to Dallas in 1963.
"We found this lovely grassy knoll and decided to have a picnic," she says, "but there were just too many people." On the movie screen, people are leaping for cover as bullets fly at the assassination of President Kennedy. Imagine thinking this would be funny.
The horrible gag seems particularly ugly when one remembers that the Family Channel is home to evangelist Pat Robertson and his daily right-wing diatribes on foreign and domestic politics. Perhaps the title "Maniac Mansion" would be better applied to Family Channel headquarters in Virginia Beach than to this appallingly misbegotten show.