The Visitor

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the men behind "Independence Day," have modeled "The Visitor" on a similar derivative. Unlike "Independence Day," though, there's less wit shown in reassembling the vintage elements, but John Corbett, who co-starred as the spiritual ex-con and disc jockey Chris Stevens throughout the run of "Northern Exposure," pulls off the time-traveling lead role with aplomb. Corbett plays Adam MacArthur, a military pilot who disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle in 1947 only to reappear in the present with mysterious powers (among them levitation, healing, and causing things to mysteriously glow). On top of it, he spouts New Agey philosophy: "All life is connected, you just have to open your eyes." He isn't so different from the Stevens character, only more obviously Christ-like.

First episode, which won its timeslot last week, sets up premise. Soon after he comes back to civilization (Utah, actually) in some sort of crashing craft, MacArthur happens upon a youthful, attractive single mother (Lucinda Jenney) and her resentful teenage son, Tyler (Brian Vaughan).

In short order, Starman — er, MacArthur — is being pursued by two factions: National Security Agency Col. James Vice (Steve Railsback), and an FBI unit headed by agent Douglas Wilcox (Grand L. Bush). Vice’s perpetual snarl identifies him as the bad guy, telling everybody that MacArthur is up to no good. Wilcox is, relatively speaking, a good guy. Or at least, in this week’s “Fear of Flying” episode, he tells Jenney’s character, “I know you think we’re bad guys — we’re not.”

And if you can’t trust a government agent, who can you trust?

Like (so far) superior series “Quantum Leap” and (in its first season, at least) Fox’s own “Sliders,” the sooner the intricate premise-setting is disposed of, the better.

First episode was overcrowded with exposition; second, and presumably subsequent, episodes put MacArthur on the road, trailed by the authorities. “Things are happening that could affect the course of history,” he explains in the pilot, “and I have to interfere before it’s too late.”

In the “Fear of Flying” episode, MacArthur chases down Louis Faraday (Harry Shearer), a brilliant MIT researcher whose antigravity experiments have been debunked and who is now teaching shop at a Midwest high school. It turns out that Faraday was close to the truth, and MacArthur, who explains that he’s tracking down “people who can change destiny,” wants to put him on the right track.

Vice, meanwhile, tells people “the opposite of antigravity is increased gravity; the ability to create a man-made black hole. I think (MacArthur) is trying to create Hell on Earth.”

Both episodes show some wit and innovation: teenaged Tyler is an incompetent at computers, while MacArthur learns to run one after skimming a manual; Shearer’s somewhat complex character would be worth bringing back sometime (the door is left open); and MacArthur isn’t all that smart — he evidently thinks that guinea pigs go “oink.”

Tech credits are OK; “Fear of Flying” climaxes niftily with a squad of military and cops chasing a WW II fighter down a city street.

The Visitor

fox, Fri. sept. 19, 26, 8 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Centropolis Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, John Masius; supervising producers, William Fay, Ute Emmerich; producer, Scott White; director, Kevin Kerslake; writers (Sept. 19), Devlin, Roland Emmerich; writers (Sept. 26), Devlin, Masius
  • Crew: camera, John S. Bartley; editor (Sept. 19), Peter S. Elliott; editor (Sept. 26), Ron Rosen; production designer (Sept. 19), Simon Murton; production designer (Sept. 26), Gregory Melton; art director, Alex Hajdu; music, David Arnold, Kevin Kiner; casting, April Webster, David Bloch. Both episodes 60 MIN.
  • Cast: John Corbett, Grand L. Bush, Leon Rippy, John Storey, Steve Railsback, Lucinda Jenny, Brian Vaughan, Diana Bellamy; (Sept. 19) Frank Gerrish, J. Scott Bronson, Michael Buster, Richard Hamilton, David Kirk Chambers, Ward Wright, Mowava Pryor, George Sullivan, Steve Anderson, Jack Moore; (Sept. 26) Richard Riehle, Richard Cox, Greg Callahan, Harry Shearer, Sandra Thigpen, Rob Elk, Matthew Bartilson, Chad Cox, Nichole Pelerine, Chris Ufland.
  • Music By: