Fox dares to step out of the reality-TV conga line tonight and onto a surrealistic dance floor with the debut of the spooky but inconsistent new series "Night Visions."
Having been bumped from last fall's schedule by the network, the one-hour horror anthology makes its debut tonight at 8 on Channel 5 with back-to-back episodes.
Though clearly inspired by "The Twilight Zone," "Visions" is a far more graphic and scary series. Still, it maintains some of the psychological intrigue that made the earlier show such a classic.
The differences between the two series begin with the hosts. Whereas "The Twilight Zone" was hosted by its creator -- clean-cut, impeccably dressed Rod Serling -- "Visions" is anchored by punk rocker Henry Rollins, a tattooed, hulking mass of a man who delivers the show's introductions and epilogues.
At the end of one segment, in which a man exacts revenge on a cocky radio shock jock, Rollins monotones: "For all you pains in the [bleep] out there, remember you can only irritate so many people before you [bleep] off the wrong one."
There's no mistaking him for Serling.
Tonight's first story (there are two per episode) is the best of the bunch. Aidan Quinn portrays a plane crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board who witnesses a devastating accident. Although he thinks his daughter may have been on the aircraft, it turns out she died two years ago.
Or did she?
What results are more plot twists and turns than you'll see in most half-hours of television. Quinn is terrific as the tortured investigator, and the camera movements and eerie music add a chilling effect.
There's a stunning and dazzlingly photographed ending, but you'll be scratching your head minutes afterward pondering a few facts that don't add up. However, it does remain a spine-tingling story.
The second story, titled "Bokor," is an equally edgy account of two medical students at a Southern university involved in both morphine addiction and the occult.
It's all a bit implausible; the two lead characters (Samantha Mathis and Jason London) involve an innocent cadaver in their drug-smuggling scheme. But the story moves along so swiftly and provides such an unpredictable ending that the slightly unbelievable plot can be overlooked.
Warning: "Bokor" is graphic, and you'd be wise to keep your eyes closed for the cadaver-dissecting scene.
Both stories in tonight's second episode at 9 are predictable and unnecessarily bloody. In particular, the second story follows a well-worn plot line of a young family moving into an old house where brutal murders took place 30 years earlier. The seemingly kind father, played by former "Ally McBeal" star Gil Bellows, begins to take on the characteristics of the psychotic homeowner who long ago killed his wife and baby. Those who have seen "The Amityville Horror" or "The Shining" will know this story well.
But despite the weak second episode, hats off to Fox for injecting some fiction television into this summer's lineup, teeming as it is with reality programming.
The network's future plans? "Murder in Smalltown X," in which contestants search for a fictional murderer, debuts in two weeks. This fall's "Love Cruise" places 16 real-life singles on a cruise ship. And "Temptation Island" is coming back soon for round two.
Hats back on, please.