SHOWS: LOIS & CLARK; SEAQUEST DSV
TIME: SUNDAYS, 8 P.M. EDT, ABC, NBC
THE BOTTOM LINE: In the sci-fi battle of the season, a hip Superman is swamped by a band of earnest undersea adventurers.
Network TV doesn't set its sights beyond the living-room couch much these days. But once in a while the cautious medium can get a little reckless. This fall, two expensively produced science-fiction shows have been scheduled, suicidally, opposite each other on Sunday nights. Both, moreover, are trying to topple that comfortable old armchair of a series, Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote. Sounds like a job for supershows.
Neither is super, but one has demonstrated some surprising ratings muscle. SeaQuest DSV, NBC's new futuristic undersea adventure, has a big-name backer (Steven Spielberg) and a big commitment from the network (which ordered 22 episodes sight unseen). But once critics got a look at its dreary pilot, most pegged the show as a seagoing white elephant. ABC's Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, by contrast, got some of the best reviews of the fall and was installed as the favorite to grab the young audience. Wrong both times. When they premiered three weeks ago, SeaQuest trounced Lois & Clark and soared to No. 2 in the week's Nielsens.
SeaQuest has settled back to more mortal numbers since, but it is still one of the fall's success stories. The marvel is that anyone is still watching after the plodding premiere episode, which spent two hours getting Roy Scheider, as Captain Nathan Bridger, out of self-imposed retirement and back in command of a 21st century submarine. Its mission: to roam the globe monitoring efforts to develop and colonize the sea.
Succeeding episodes have been better, mainly because they have emphasized the show's homespun attractions. One is a talking dolphin named Darwin, whose clicks and whistles are "translated" by computer into squeaky human speech. The other is a Star Trek-like combination of imaginative sci-fi story lines and the cozy ethos of Wagon Train. Typical episode: the crew discovers the Great Library of Alexandria, preserved intact at the bottom of the sea since antiquity, then has to mediate as Middle Eastern diplomats squabble over the booty.
Lois & Clark, on the other hand, is very '90s in its hip facetiousness. Though the pilot episode was entertaining, its laughs came mostly from seeing the Superman myth retold in colloquial modern terms: when Clark Kent decides he needs a costume for his secret identity, his mom sews various trial getups before he settles on the famous red and blue model. By episode two, the comic bickering between Clark and Lois Lane (Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher) had all but taken over. ("Clark, you can do the horizontal rhumba with the entire Metnet cheerleading squad if you want, but keep your hands off my copy!") Lois & Clark is one of those shows that have to keep flapping their wings furiously to avoid falling to earth -- and even then, the wisecracks keep coming. Lois, after being pushed out of a plane by the bad guys, cries, "Superman, if you can hear me, drop what you're doing and get over here now!" He does.