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Fall '98: "Legacy"

If UPN was hoping to mine the history books for a hit this season, they've certainly succeeded. However, it looks like the UPN executives have been barking up the wrong historical tree: Desmond Pfeiffer is to history what Disney's It's a Small World ride is to geopolitical coalitions. Instead, UPN executives should be out shilling their Friday night offering: Legacy really is a treasure trove of history.

A treasure trove of the history of television, that is. Although the show purports to be about a family of Irish horse ranchers in bluegrass country during the late 1860s, it's really about television shows, and the traits that get passed, like an overbite or color-blindness, from one generation of shows to the next.

Consider Legacy's dominant traits:

  • A middle child with acute personality disorders: Fifteen minutes into Legacy, middle child Clay is pummelling older brother and recent adoptee Jeremy, and screaming, "I'm tired of hearing about Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy!" Jan Brady feels your pain, Clay.

  • Conveniently dead or absent parents: In this case, only one parent is dead -- Mom. The remaining parent, Ned Logan, appears to be channeling both Lorne Greene and Michael Landon. Perhaps the real legacy here belongs to that other widower-headed ranchin' family, the Cartwrights.

  • Conveniently self-sufficient younger sibling: Every family soap opera has some token child they trot occasionally out as proof that the show isn't just about oversexed adults. Party of Five had Claudia Salinger, but then she hit puberty and had to be shipped off to boarding school; Legacy's Lexy Logan has now inherited the precocious-and-ignored crown.

  • An angst-ridden ugly duckling heroine: If you're aiming to capture the Clearisil crowd, have the main heroine be a pretty girl who is, mysteriously, regarded as ugly and awkward by everyone else on the show. Legacy inherits this homespun programming wisdom -- Alice Logan is UPN's best bet for carving out the remaining six inches of territory not taken up by angsty young women like Julia Salinger (Party of Five), Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Sabrina Spellman (Sabrina the Teenage Witch), Felicity Porter (Felicity), and eternal adolescent Ally McBeal.

  • And the horses, oh God, the horses: It's all about the horses, as established the five-minute opening credits sequence where Alice gallops across misty meadows in slow-motion while songs by Loreena McKennitt (think Tori Amos meets the Reconstruction Era) carry on in the background. Anyone who misses the show The Young Riders will feel strangely gratified by this opening montage... so long as they've pressed the mute button.

And somewhere, in the midst of this programming Punnett Square, Legacy has a few storylines and foreshadowing devices. Interfamilial conflict after Sean stands up rich bitch Vivian at their engagement party! Burning looks of desire passed between Jeremy and Alice, making for the most disturbing sibling interaction since Marsha and Greg Brady steamed up the screen! City slickers inadvertently breaking horse's legs! Irish people spontaneously breaking into jigs!

No, I didn't make that last one up. But oh, how I wish I had.

UPN's jumped on the Gaelic bandwagon that seems to be rolling across the TV networks this season. Should you miss watching dull Irish people dishing blarney Wednesday night on To Have and To Hold, you can tune in and watch dull Irish people cavort Fridays on Legacy.

I'm not suggesting this is a good thing.

One can only imagine how the Logans will adapt next season -- assuming they're still on the air -- when the Irish are no longer TV's ethnic group du jour.

Then again, the Logans don't even have to adapt: Legacy isn't about a bunch of Irishmen and their inherited compulsion to ride horses in scenic locations any more than it's about the lives and the loves of a family coming to grips with the brutal realities of repatriation in the aftermath of The War Between the States.

It's about a bunch of characters directly passed down from other shows, living plot lines passed down from still more shows. And it's filled with more manure than those stallions galloping over the opening credits.


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