White Dwarf” starts out feeling like “Twin Peaks in Space,” but takes enough quirky and vaguely sentimental turns to end up more a “Northern Exposure in Space.”
With the involvement of exec producers Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Halmi Sr. and Bruce Wagner (who, as scripter, lends the project the kind of edge he brought to “Wild Palms”), Fox has some strong promo hooks that could snag a big sweeps-month tune-in. Chances of “White Dwarf” becoming a series, however, seem unlikely, due to its quirkiness and some genuinerule-breaking by its makers.
Neal McDonough plays Dr. Driscoll Rampart III, a sardonic, patronizing Manhattan internist sentenced to a six-month residency on a remote, schizophrenic planet known as Rusta (which revolves around a white dwarf star, hence the confusing and forgettable title).
There he finds a world divided into warring hemispheres, one of perpetual darkness and one of light. A peace accord is imminent — ifthe designsof certain sinister forces can be thwarted.
The cast of quirky characters is upstaged by Rusta itself, an enticing collage of disparate images and jarring juxtapositions. Wagner’s inventive conception of Rusta, realized adeptly through James Newport’s produc-tion design and the Steve Anker-supervised effects, draws from Western, medieval, Renaissance, fantasy and sci-fi traditions.,
The overall impact of “White Dwarf” is muted by an oddly detached mood. Characters and motivations can seem vague and distant, partly because of the archaic speech patterns and mannerisms in Wagner’s script, and partly because director Peter Markle and the cast sometimes sacrifice emotional punch to maintain the air of malaise and foreboding.
Paul Winfield heads the cast, ably portraying the legendary healer Akada.
Tech credits are mostly excellent, with lots of deft, subtle touches helping to create the dream world of Rusta.