Set the trials and tribulations of a character similar to Dr. Richard Kimble to a Seattle sound-inspired soundtrack and fashion show, add a highly visual presentation and a heavy reliance on flash over substance, and you’ve got “Dead at 21,” the bouillabaisse that is MTV’s first foray into action-adventure series.
But the stew arrives at the table warmed over and stale, as the normally ground-breaking cable channel borrows heavily from well-trod TV ground.
Story centers around Ed (Jack Noseworthy), a Harley-riding hunk, and Maria (Lisa Dean Ryan), who are framed for the murder of Dan, a disheveled transient and apparent victim of a government-sponsored medical experiment.
Program uses a videotaped message by Dan to further articulate the storyline: Dan and Ed are actually lab rats for a bioengineering effort that implanted microchips into their brains to increase thinking power.
Dan’s hyperactive cranium also provides him with some wicked dreams that apparently hold the clues to the identity of the doctor and key information about the experiment. All Dan must do is interpret them to solve the puzzle.
The downside to this ability to peek into the future is that the chip will cause implantees to self-destruct on their 21st birthday.
While Ed and Maria attempt to clear their names, 20-year-old Ed is also working against the clock, trying to find the doctor who implanted the microchip before he implodes.
The half-hour ultimately raises more questions than it answers. The heavy use of visual chicanery rather than dialogue or character action to advance the story grows tiresome by show’s end.
In true MTV style, questioning authority is primary. Fortysomething adults are portrayed as feeble codgers incapable of rational thought, and Ed and Lisa always have all the answers, even when they don’t know the questions.
Noseworthy is credible as the stud on the run, but Ryan’s independent tough-girl musings lack spark or conviction.
Director Ralph Hemecker takes the channel’s trademark use of quirky camera angles a few notches off the scale, using a dizzying array of upside-down and overhead shots that adds nothing to the story.