×

Tarzan

If ever a drama was tailored to built-in product placement, it's this one, which could as easily be dubbed "Calvin Klein's Tarzan." The WB unleashes another sumptuous-looking hour based on a famous hero, infused with scads of potential but also some problematic underpinnings.

If ever a drama was tailored to built-in product placement, it’s this one, which could as easily be dubbed “Calvin Klein’s Tarzan.” Having updated Superboy into a winner with “Smallville” and undone Batgirl in “Birds of Prey,” the WB unleashes another sumptuous-looking hour based on a famous hero, infused with scads of potential but also some problematic underpinnings. The netlet has consistently struggled to make noise Sundays, and if this marketing-friendly concept doesn’t roar amid that crowded jungle of dramas, expect a strategic retreat to another night — perhaps catching onto “Smallville’s” cape-tails.

Those of us with rippling biceps and six-pack abs can doubtless sympathize with the PR grind awaiting star Travis Fimmel, the Australian model who landed the title role. At this point, you can’t throw a banana without hitting a billboard of him, and while the character doesn’t say a lot, he’s certainly a striking presence who can act considerably better than former model-turned-apeman Miles O’Keeffe.

Series originally was titled “Tarzan and Jane,” but the contemporized storyline might as easily be dubbed “Tarzan in New York” — although, not surprisingly, production actually took place in less expensive Toronto.

In what might sound like a bad joke but doesn’t play that way, Jane (Sarah Wayne Callies) is a New York City cop who encounters Tarzan during a rooftop chase in which he saves her life. Raised in the jungle after his parents’ death, he was captured by, and has escaped from, his super-rich uncle Richard Clayton (“The X-Files’ ” Mitch Pileggi), who hunted him down and imprisoned him.

Tarzan seeks refuge with Jane, and their budding relationship sets up a strained romantic triangle with her cop boyfriend, since she’s clearly wowed by Tarzan. “He’s an 11 then, right?” Jane’s roommate asks.

Director David Nutter, who has a flare for dark action dating back to “The X-Files” and “Roswell,” creates several memorable visuals in the premiere, from some of the best roof-scaling acrobatics since “Spider-Man” to Tarzan’s intriguing fighting style — freely using his feet and thrashing with his arms wildly in the manner of an ape.

Still, there are some problems, from how you justify keeping the protagonist shirtless in New York (beyond the obvious “He’s hot” rationale) to coming up with a better way to incorporate Jane into the action. Unless they develop something to explain his timely arrival — the Ape-signal? — having Tarzan show up whenever she needs his help will become preposterous pretty fast. The opener also incorporates an uninvolving crime plot with a serial killer torching homeless people — an unnecessarily grim addition to the hour.

Because Tarzan isn’t the talkative type, Callies will need to be someone to whom the WB’s youthful femme audience can relate, and while she’s pretty enough, the character doesn’t spark here. Nor is it obvious how she’ll be able to hang out in Manhattan with a guy who doesn’t wear shoes. If this becomes “Beauty and the Beauty,” again, long-term prospects aren’t good.

Clearly, this apeman is still evolving, with Lucy Lawless (“Xena: Warrior Princess”) joining the cast in future episodes. And while there are some clever twists — such as naming Clayton’s company Greystoke Industries, a reference to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs version’s lordly title — the show will have to go a long way to rival “Smallville’s” refreshing wrinkles on the Superman mythology.

“Tarzan” occupies an inhospitable climate for a new drama, facing “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” the youth-oriented “Alias” and whatever’s on HBO. Competition alone won’t prevent this series from scaling the Nielsen chart if it’s executed right, but the producers will need a firmer grip on the premise if they want to reach the higher branches.

Tarzan

Series; WB, Sun. Oct. 5, 9 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Toronto by Laura Ziskin Prods. and the Gerber Co. for Warner Bros. Television. Executive producers, Laura Ziskin, David Gerber, P.K. Simonds, Eric Kripke; co-executive producer, Molly Newman; supervising producer, Dan Lerner; producers, Pam Williams, Peter McIntosh, Leonard Dick; director, David Nutter; writer, Kripke;
  • Crew: camera, Robert McLachlan; editor, Stephen Mark; music, John Ehrlich; production design, Gavin Mitchell; art direction, Greg Beale; casting, Tina Gerussi, Liz Lang Fedrick, Mark Saks. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: John Clayton/Tarzan - Travis Fimmel Jane Porter - Sarah Wayne Callies Sam Sullivan - Miguel A. Nunez Jr. Richard Clayton - Mitch Pileggi