“Independence Day” blew up the White House, and the new weekly summertime hour “GvsE” blows up Emmanuel Lewis in Episode Three. But it’s really OK, because the pint-sized star of “Webster” has in the interim turned into a savage, demonic killer. So when a trigger accidentally trips some plastic explosives strapped to Lewis’ body, leaving only a puddle of liquid and a pair of shoes, we can cheer it as a good thing. Such is the wiggy logic that drives this wildly eccentric comedy-thriller that breaks from the gate feeling uncommonly hip and clever.
“GvsE” (an abbreviation of “Good vs. Evil”) comes courtesy of Josh and Jonas Pate, who co-wrote and directed the indie feature “The Grave” that opened some eyes at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. Now they’re co-exec producing (along with Paul Biddle) and writing a doggedly original project that is both send-up and sci-fi, fantasy and farce. It’s what “The X-Files” might look like were it to undergo a pretentiousness bypass.
Stylish, offbeat opener penned by Jonas Pate builds the self-mocking scenario at the heart of “GvsE.” Chandler Smythe (engaging work from Clayton Rohner) has just died. When he awakens, he finds himself being jabbered at by a couple of CIA types named Henry McNeil (Richard Brooks) and Decker (Googy Gress) — except that their organization is called the Corp. and, in this case, the Big Guy Upstairs isn’t Louis Freeh but God Himself.
Chandler has been recruited reluctantly to work as a G-man, if you will, serving as a bounty-hunting agent for the Almighty by saving lost souls who are gullible enough to have made that darned Faustian bargain with Satan. Those who succumb are called Morlocks (“mortal” meets “warlock”), and they are masters of disguise.
It will come as a surprise to few that Hollywood is the epicenter of these devil deals. As Chandler is indoctrinated into his new post in the Hollywood Division, he eyes a “most wanted” poster that includes such devil dealers as Don King, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, LeAnn Rimes (“Of course!” he notes) and even “Love Boat” captain Gavin MacLeod.
Coming back from the dead turns out to be more or less a drag, however. Sex is verboten (because we can’t have a good guy mating with what could be a Morlock). No contact with anyone from your former life. And you are given no magic or special powers, meaning no immortality. In other words, you can die all over again. Bummer.
Pilot, titled “Orange Volvo,” incorporates many canny touches, not the least of which is the use of former L.A. Rams star Deacon Jones as a “play-by-play” narrator (“Now go out there and whip evil’s ass!”). Josh Pate moves along the deliciously warped action with energy and savvy, backed by a driving beat from music man Will Thomas that serves to goose the pace.
A second episode supplied for review, “Buried” (which will air as the third installment), enables Richard Brooks to blossom in the role of Henry McNeil, Chandler’s partner on the afterlife beat. Josh Pate’s teleplay is an over-the-top gem, blending a main story that finds Chandler buried alive in a coffin filling with water, with secondary elements involving, among other things, a Satan-worshipping transvestite named Mistress Hector.
The actors play it all to deadpan perfection, lending hope that USA won’t need to sell its soul to Satan to make a hit of “GvsE.” Tech credits are spiffy, particularly the artistically ambitious photography and makeup that help make for some agreeably cheesy f/x.