This midseason sci-fi series — network TV’s first about a bio-anthropologist — has its work cut out trying to attract auds on a night when NBC will soon roll out its “Seinfeld” farewell tour. Ironically, “Prey” also happens to be a show about nothing. Nothing human, that is.
While the show boasts an intriguing premise and a comely lead in Debra Messing (“Ned & Stacey”), the opening stanza doesn’t quite draw viewers in. William Schmidt’s script is obliged to go all Darwinian on us, painting a picture of an Earth about to be shaken to its skivvies by the next link in mankind’s evolutionary chain. Just what America needs: men who can lie to women in a whole new DNA pattern.
Yes, in “Prey” the new breed are bigger, stronger, faster and squarer-jawed, portending a future utterly free of cosmetic surgery. Opening hour, focusing on the imminent takeover by these dudes, is only moderately dumb, but a peek at a future seg indicates the lameness quotient stands to rise considerably.
Messing stars as Dr. Sloan Parker, the aforementioned bio-anthropologist, who finds out that Randall Lynch (Roger Howarth), the guy with long hair and thick lips who is charged with killing her mentor, may not even be a member of our species.
During the guy’s court arraignment, he whispers, “You will all die!” in one ear. Dr. Parker decides this might be a good time to grab a DNA sample from this walking piece of E-coli. Once she does, she finds out his DNA is 1.6% different from the rest of us.
Things quickly begin unraveling for Dr. Parker. The FBI agent (Adam Storke) who she thought was on her side might instead be one of them. In fact, there may be as many as five of these unnamed homo sapiens crushers, and the only people trying to help the doc figure all this out are one associate (Vincent Ventresca) who has the hots for her and a second (“L.A. Law’s” Larry Drake) who has the personality of a turnip.
Schmidt’s script blames the visit from this uninvited party of five on global warming. Seems environmental disruption triggered the whole mess, scrunching the evolutionary time period from a few million years down to, oh, 20. The advanced race (whose members look just like us) not only want to kill all of us, they want to take all our massage tables and punch weird little symbols into them. Clearly, they must be stopped.
Under Peter O’Fallon’s direction — two parts “V” and one part “NYPD Blue” — Messing wanders around looking pained and saying “Oh my God!” a lot. But it isn’t entirely clear in the pilot just what answers she’s after. More than a bit of species envy appears to be creeping in.
What tends to boost “Prey” is the unsettling sense that practically anyone onscreen might be one of the DNA-blessed, since they essentially look normal. While that gambit has been played out numerous times in the past, from “The Thing” to “V,” the elimination of the “monster” angle nonetheless feels like an original approach.
As for the rest of “Prey,” its survival probably rests with its ability to breed a mutant strain of Nielsen family — not likely on Thursday night in this universe.