"Have you forgotten you're dead?" someone asks the hero of "Now and Again" about halfway through the show. Or maybe it's a third of the way through. Or seven-eighths. You don't so much watch "Now and Again" as tumble headlong into it. What a spooky, quirky, herky-jerky tumble it is.
"Now and Again" drags CBS kicking and screaming into the 1990s. Okay, it's a little late, but better that than never.
In the premiere, at 9 tonight on Channel 9, groundwork is laid in most perplexing and enthralling ways and, viewers should be warned, little is resolved or explained before "To Be Continued" appears near the end of the hour. But producer Glen Gordon Caron, who of course created "Moonlighting," is to be congratulated for whipping up a tantalizing appetizer.
For some no doubt fascinating demographical reason, Friday and Saturday are fright nights on (some of) the networks, a trend begun by "The X-Files" on Fox. Trends begun by Fox are usually unsavory; this one has produced a string of kooky, off-kilter entertainments, from CBS's viewer-friendly "Early Edition" to NBC's "The Pretender" and "Profiler" and last year's short-lived "Dark Skies."
Caron's show is unlike any of them. The only thing it brings to mind offhand is a John Frankenheimer thriller called "Seconds," a "Twilight Zoney" drama about a company that gives middle-aged men the chance to start their adult lives over in fresh new bodies. This happens in "Now and Again," too, but the rebirth is not voluntary.
John Goodman, as an insurance executive unfairly passed over for a promotion by youth-mad superiors, is waiting for his commuter train on the subway platform when rowdy ruffians set up a chain reaction of toppling bodies that sends his tumbling into the path of an oncoming train. When he wakes up, he doesn't look like portly John Goodman anymore. He looks like baby-faced hunk Eric Close and is being told that his old identity is kaput, he is forbidden to contact anyone from his previous life, and he is being prepared by some secret government agency to serve as a new superhuman instrument of espionage and subterfuge.
Or so it seems. Intercut with this plot line are scenes of a mysterious elderly Japanese man who first causes an epidemic of hemorrhaging on a Tokyo subway car and then shows up in Paris with more fiendish schemes up his sleeve. The connection between this business and the rebirthing process? We don't find out tonight.
"Now and Again" belongs to a TV tradition of surreal, metaphoric, through-the-rabbit-hole shows such as "The Prisoner," with Patrick McGoohan, and, more recently, David Lynch's "Twin Peaks," which got off to a superb start and then degenerated into imbecility. "Now and Again" gets off to a superb start tonight, and one can hope will follow a less self-destructive course.
Dennis Haysbert is first-rate as the government bureaucrat-scientist who appears to be in charge of the project. Margaret Colin plays the insurance executive's heartbroken wife. Chad Lowe, Rob's cuter brother, plays deftly against type as the head of the insurance company, a sniveling little ferret who tries to cheat the widow out of her proper compensation.
Close is especially effective in his earliest scenes of self-discovery, trying to get used to a youthful physique and a 30-inch waist. And more. As he peers down his pants, one of the scientists says, "I think our boy's about to check his package" and another chimes in, "Made in America, baby." It also appears the newly minted fellow has some kind of super strength but is disappointed to find out he can definitely not leap tall buildings at a single bound.
Among the other impressive things about "Now and Again" is the fact that the producing companies--CBS and Paramount--ponied up the dough to have "I Am the Walrus" played on the soundtrack early in the premiere. Those Beatles songs don't come cheap, you know.
We can only hope that Caron will carry through all these various elements in as high a style as he sets them up with tonight. "Now and Again" promises to be the year's most delightful shocker--a promise that adventurous viewers will hope can be kept.
"Cold hands, warm heart"--an old expression. "Cold Feet," Thick Skull, a new expression, one inspired by an aggressively annoying new NBC comedy-drama series premiering tonight at 10 on Channel 4.
A mish-moshy muddle based on a successful British series and dealing with six souls in search of love in present-day Portland, Ore., "Cold Feet" is top-heavy and bottom-heavy with gimmicks, coy tricks, sexual references and irritating characters. Sometimes they're funny, as when a woman manages to make a cell phone call after getting hit by a car. But the flashbacks, plot twists, pseudo-eclectic pop songtrack ("My Way," "The Tender Trap") and other elements never really mesh into anything coherent or compelling.
"If it doesn't jell, it isn't aspic," as Martin Balsam said in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."
This doesn't jell.
The dominant male-female pursuit is that of Adam (David Sutcliffe), a sort of latter-day hippie, and Shelley (Jean Louisa Kelly, trying perhaps to be Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Adam haunts supermarkets hoping for Shelley to appear, and in one of the final scenes expresses his love by singing a ballad naked with a rose stuck between his buttocks. It's all just too cute for words, except maybe words like "too cute for words."
People hop from bed to bed, discuss sex endlessly, and utter lots of suggestive dialogue. When a woman leans down to pick up a fork dropped in a restaurant, her male companion says, "I thought for a second you were gonna pull a Monica Lewinsky."
"Cold Feet" should pull an Amelia Earhart--and disappear from the face of the earth.
CAPTION: John Goodman's new look: Eric Close with co-star Margaret Colin.