Chris Carter becomes just another little boy playing soldier with the premiere of "Harsh Realm," the latest eerie series from the creator of "The X-Files." Hummers rumble, machine guns rattle away, bombs go boom and everybody dives for cover.
Everybody should dive for cover, because a bomb is just what's being proffered. In the heavily padded premiere, at 9 on Channel 5, the series's dreary hero, Cpl. Thomas Hobbes, is introduced risking his life to save a buddy who risked his life to save a child in war-torn Sarajevo five years ago. Scott Bairstow as Hobbes is clear-eyed, four-square and true-blue. But that mean ol' federal government has nasty plans for him.
Before he can marry his sweetheart and escape New Jersey for California, he is invited by officers to take part in "Harsh Realm," a top-secret Pentagon war game involving virtual reality. His mission, should he agree to accept it: Pierce the realm, track down an evil tyrant named Santiago (Terry O'Quinn, combining the worst of Sean Connery and Dabney Coleman) and, er, presumably pop back into real reality again.
Santiago is not to be confused with Sandiego, of course, as in the hit PBS kids' show "Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?" That's much more adult than this.
Unfortunately, Hobbes doesn't get a chance to accept or reject the offer because while he's watching a lavishly produced training film, in a sequence that recalls a similar one from "The Parallax View," he's sucked into the game, and the shooting and bashing and copious bleeding begin. Soon he's running all over the virtual countryside exchanging virtual growls with D.B. Sweeney, totally virtual as a virtual combat veteran who apparently has been stuck in the game for years.
Any relationship between The Game in this show and The Game in "The Game," that tense thriller with Michael Douglas, is purely irrelevant--since the Harsh Realm game appears to have no point and just involves inordinately large amounts of gunfire. When are little boys like Carter going to grow up and move on to something a tad less juvenile? The actors, most of them, look silly trying to appear tough and macho and having to snarl all their dialogue.
Women are reduced mainly to props. One mysterious female soldier appears in the woods and places her hand on a bubbling, bloody wound of Hobbes's. It miraculously heals, sort of the way a similar wound was similarly healed on "Roswell" just the other night.
Carter's script and the direction of Daniel Sackheim (one of about 25 "executive producers") are riddled with hoary, snory contemporary cliches. Nothing amazes, nothing amuses, it all just goes bang and boom and clang in the night. This will be not just virtually but literally a better world if "Harsh Realm" has vamoosed by Christmas.
'Love & Money'
A cheerfully but perhaps fatally old-fashioned sitcom, "Love & Money" stands out from the crowd of new-season losers in that it actually has some laughs in it. Plus a supremely talented cast that includes the terrific Swoosie Kurtz, who's always looked a bit like a Goldie Hawn cookie that didn't quite turn out right.
She's winningly funny in the series premiere, at 8:30 tonight on CBS (Channel 9), as the way-too-rich wife of a pompous and snobbish husband played with rich theatrical zeal by David Ogden Stiers. It's the wedding day of their accessibly lovely daughter (Paget Brewster) and, much like the bride in Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite," she's chosen to lock herself in the bathroom in a posh apartment building and pout.
In from the window ledge comes the building superintendent, a young man who once dated the bride-not-to-be and almost flew off with her to Paris. It's this young man from the wrong side of the tracks--or rather the wrong floor of the building--whom she really loves. But she's wearing Vera Wang, we are told, and he's wearing Home Depot.
From the way things develop on the premiere, the parents will have to adjust, and to judge from the pilot, the adjusting will be nearly as funny as on "Dharma & Greg," where another pair of rich parents faced a similar situation, at least in that series's first season.
In every respect, the production is smart and snappy, the cast further enhanced by Brian Doyle-Murray as the super's super-cranky dad, also a super but not a really super-duper super. In the pilot previewed, the son was played by an actor with likably goofy good looks who seemed to be doing a fine job. But he has since been replaced with Brian Van Holt, who in CBS press photos looks not nearly so interesting but may prove just as funny.
As written by Dan Staley and Rob Long, creators of the series, and directed by Pamela Fryman, tonight's "Love & Money" is one of the most polished pilots of the new semester. But it doesn't have randy teens or very many smutty sex jokes, and while that'll be a blessed relief for many viewers, it also seems dangerously out of vogue.
"Love & Money" is one of the good guys. Maybe, just maybe, this good guy will come out on top.