Just in time for Halloween comes Fox’s “Millennium,” the latest posting from “X-Files” creator Chris Carter, the king of creepy TV. Shrouded in fin-de-siecle doom and gloom (stealthy figures move in and out of shadow; string-heavy music portends disaster), “Millennium” makes “Twin Peaks” look like a morning in Romper Room. Literate, well-acted and blessed with an irresistible hook, it’s the best new show of the season. I just wish it were a little more fun, that I didn’t have this nagging feeling that it wants to hurt me the next time I come around.
Lance Henriksen plays lawman Frank Black, who returns to Seattle with wife Kathryn (Megan Gallagher) and young daughter (Brittany Tiplady) after a decade in D.C. tracking serial killers for the FBI He’s supposed to be semi-retired, but some demento is preying on strippers and homosexuals, and the police are stymied.
Frank has a sixth sense: Looking at a body bag, he visualizes — and through the miracle of TV, so do we — every grisly thing that’s happened to the victim. You probably don’t want to be around when Frank picks up a packaged chicken breast at the supermarket. “I see what the killer sees. I become the thing we fear the most,” he tells his old buddy, a police lieutenant with the Mad magazine name of Lt. Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich). “The horror we know we can become only in our heart of darkness. It’s my gift. It’s my curse.”
Frank is no lone operative. He belongs to a group of like-types working under the name of the Millennium Group — vigilantes of the Apocalypse well-versed in advanced methods of crime detection, not to mention the poetry of William Butler Yeats and the prophecies of the 16th century seer Nostradamus. The search for the killer takes him to sleazy sex shops, forbidding parks and threatening woods.
One minute, Frank envisions half-dead men on the midnight prowl, their eyes and mouths sewn shut; the next minute, he’s imagining a victim who’s been burned to a charcoal crisp. It’s not for the squeamish. Director David Nutter and lenser Peter Wunstori go for the viscera with dark, murky tones and low vibes, the atmosphere further enhanced by Mark Snow’s sober scoring and Mat Beck’s special effects.
Henriksen, face etched with caring, features attenuated by brutal experience, is exceptionally appealing as Frank, sort of Clint Eastwood with a touch of Stallone thrown in for good measure. So far, Gallagher has little more to do than appear put-upon and trusting in the long-suffering wife role; she deserves more. And whether or not there will be stories compelling enough to prevent “Millennium” from descending the silly path of dark-edged predecessors such as “Twin Peaks” remains to be seen. For now, however, the series gets off to a terrific start.