It’s quirky, it’s mesmerizing, it’s addictive, it’s from “Moonlighting’s” Glenn Gordon Caron — and it offers the unforgettable image of John Goodman getting slammed by a subway train and flying straight into our living room. Surely, “Now and Again” (which will be confused with the ABC hour “Once and Again”) is no ordinary CBS Friday night series. It is so wildly original it defies conventional categorization.
From start to finish, the hour keeps viewers entertainingly off-balance. It shifts tones constantly — a sci-fi thriller one minute, a black comedy the next. To be sure, “Now and Again” promises to provide supporters with a strangely endearing ride, if it manages to survive its semi-stiff competition (ABC’s “TGIF” lineup, “Dateline NBC” — benefiting from a “Providence” lead-in — and the new Chris Carter paranoid romp “Harsh Realm”).
The trick for some viewers, however, will simply be in making it past a highly disturbing first five minutes. “Now and Again” kicks off showing an elderly Japanese man carrying groceries, backed by the offbeat Beatles’ tune “I Am the Walrus.” He exits a subway train in Japan, leaving behind four eggs on his seat. As a young boy grins mischievously, the eggs roll to the ground and break. Suddenly, blood spurts from the eyes, noses and mouths of passengers. Within minutes, the windows are coated in blood. Bedlam ensues.
That’s the introduction to the international terrorist known as the Egg Man, who has just released poison gas and likely killed dozens. Now let’s meet Michael Wiseman (Goodman), a portly middle-aged insurance executive with an adoring wife (the exquisite and underrated Margaret Colin) and daughter (Heather Matarazzo, the ugly duckling teen from the cult hit “Welcome to the Dollhouse”). One night after work, he gets jostled onto the subway tracks and smashed to bits by the onrushing vehicle.
But not so fast. Here’s where the high-concept part kicks in. Turns out that Wiseman’s intact brain was saved by the government, and, with his permission, it will now get implanted into the head of a hunky, bioengineered, 26-year-old superhero with lightning speed and the strength of, well, many, many insurance executives. (He’s played now by Eric Close). In exchange for this second chance, Wiseman will be kept on the shortest of leashes, closely monitored while doing government dirty-work such as stalking scum like the Egg Man.
The other catch: Wiseman can have no contact with his wife and daughter. If he tries, he will be killed. Except that he’s already dead, anyway. But … oh well. The premise, dark and bizarre though it may be, is roundly intriguing thanks to Caron’s canny teleplay and his own divertingly wiggy directorial touches (with an assist from Ken Kelsch’s stylish camera work).
And yet the true secret weapon of “Now and Again” is Dennis Haysbert, with his portrayal of Dr. Theodore Morris — the mysterious, anal Frankenstein responsible for the experiment that is Wiseman. One minute Haysbert is exulting like a medical Don King; the next, he evokes coiled rage and flippant condescension. If this show catches fire, Close should emerge as a sex symbol — but it’s Haysbert who will travel the fast track to stardom. Here’s hoping he gets the chance.