Space, the final frontier. These are the voyagers of the … oh wait, that one’s been used. But you’d be excused for thinking of shows like “Star Trek” when watching NBC’s big-budget, bigger-expectations sci-fi adventure “seaQuest DSV.” This derivative but technologically advanced series has a sufficiently interesting premise and enough high-tech toys to perhaps survive the hostile waters of Sunday night programming.
The series kicks off with a two-hour movie (in advance of its regular 8-9 p.m. Sunday slot) setting up the story of the giant seaQuest Deep Submergence Vehicle. A combination military/scientific research vessel, seaQuest is charged with keeping the peace and boldly going where no show since “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” has gone before in the year 2018, when nations have begun to colonize and exploit the oceans, often with violent results.
Much of the pilot is devoted to the wooing of Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider) — who retired from the Navy six years earlier following the death of his Navy son — to take command of the ship.
He has since moved to a Caribbean island where his only companion is his pet dolphin Darwin. He’ll remind you of “Flipper.”
Officials of the United Earth Oceans Organization — known as UEO — the United Nations-like international governing body charged with keeping the peace in this wet frontier, feel Bridger is the only man with the combination of military experience andhumanistic values to command this underwater city.
Predicatably, Bridger starts out resistant, but ultimately is wooed. As one holographic character tells him, it’s his better self that is drawn to the sea, never mind his promise to his late wife to retire.
Meanwhile, the series introduces the ship’s crew — few of whom make much of an impression aside from conniving Supply & Moral officer Benjamin Krieg (John D’Aquino) and chief sci-ence officer Dr. Kristin Westphalen (Stephanie Beacham, doing her best Bones McCoy).
Viewers also learn about the ship itself, an imaginatively conceived futuristic vessel that at once mixes classically inspired architecture and the latest computer toys. Many of the latter are designed by wunderkind computer genius Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis), who is clearly designed to draw in younger viewers.
The best of these toys is the aforementioned hologram character, a computer program designed to be part friend, part Obi Wan Kenobe to Bridger. The image is projected on a free-standing wall of dry ice smoke. Very impressive.
With all these introductions, there’s little room for plot, and even less time spent in Rockne O’Bannon and Tommy Thompson’s script with original ideas.
Suffice it to say a Eurotrash entrepreneur hates the sea-Quest’s do-good mission, so he enlists the sub’s renegade previous skipper (Shelley Hack) to blow the vessel out of the water. You’ll probably guess who wins the anticlimactic battle, but it lets us see the tender-yet-tough parts of Bridger, who is reminiscent of Capt. Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
In fact, the success of Paramount’s syndicated hit seems like the clearest inspiration for “seaQuest.” The execs at Amblin and Universal TV, as well as NBC , must have realized they could enjoy such fortunes too; all they needed was a newfrontier.
The competition Sunday nights is tough, but the show’s creators may just have found it in the dark, mysterious, and still largely unexplored waters that cover most of the planet. More original plotting and better use of the underwater setting — too much of the pilot is devoted to interiors, rather than aquatic effects — will help quite a bit.
And in case the show doesn’t swim off to ratings glory, can I get dibs on that smoke-screen hologram device?