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Fall '98: "Seven Days" and "Mercy Point"

Expectations are funny things.

Though I'm a known aficionado of what we Vidiots have come to call "Silly Sci-Fi For the Kids," I clearly had different expectations for the variety of Silly Sci-Fi that was hitting the airwaves as a part of this new TV season.

Take the two new sci-fi series UPN launched this fall with hopes of finding a suitable mate for Star Trek: Voyager. (At least, a match more suitable than the one they made last year, pairing Captain Janeway's 70 sort-of-stranded castaways with the five heightened senses of Manim-- uh, The Sentinel.) This year's UPN entrants were Seven Days and Mercy Point, and when they were announced this past spring I had very different feelings about each of them.

Mercy Point piqued my interest, because I thought it could be a clever twist on ER -- namely, a fast-paced medical drama that just happened to be set in space, therefore opening up all sorts of gruesome alien medical possibilities. You know, the space ambulance pulls up with a big space monkey with little bugs living inside him. That sort of thing.

But Seven Days, well... it sounded like a retread of ABC's failed Timecop, one of the first shows to get the ax last fall. Does the world really need another show about another law-enforcement agent sent back in time to right wrongs? Didn't we learn anything from what Jean-Claude Van Damme wrought?

And yet, here we are a month into the television season, and Seven Days is still standing, while Mercy Point has already been shown the door. I find myself agreeing with -- hold your breath -- the UPN brain trust on this one.

If you never saw Mercy Point, be thankful. Unless UPN's unwise enough to bring it back later on this season (it's currently been Hiatused away, not officially cancelled), you've managed to miss one of the ugliest messes I've ever witnessed on television.

See, it turns out that Mercy Point wasn't actually a rip-off of ER or of Star Trek. No, it was more like a rip-off of Crisis Center, the painful Kellie Martin vehicle that tried to transplant ER into the world of a suicide hotline. Aside from the occasional ugly computer-generated space station, Mercy Point might as well have been set in Akron.

A doctor with an ugly past! A doctor carrying on a torrid love affair! A doctor with a chip on her shoulder! Petty bickering! Bantering Regular Joes who work with snooty doctors! A snooty doctor waiting to be put in his place by a plucky young intern! (Except in this case, the snooty doctor looked like a snail without its shell instead of a 50-year-old white guy.)

This wasn't just ER in space. It was General Hospital. Without the production values.

And when Mercy Point verged into the world of science fiction, it showed why it would've been better for all concerned if the show had been set in Akron. In the pilot episode, a computer technician comes down with a deadly virus. For the entire episode, the doctors puzzle over whether the virus is of human or alien original.

The solution, of course, is that this particular virus is neither human nor alien. Our computer technician and all the people he's exchanged contact with, you see, have been infected by a computer virus.


In contrast to Mercy Point's utter waste of an intriguing premise, comes Seven Days, a sheer joy to watch despite its startling stupidity.

Seven Days features Jonathan LaPaglia (weasely younger brother of Murder One's Anthony LaPaglia) as an off-kilter hero in the Mel Gibson Lethal Weapon mode. LaPaglia is the pilot of a government time machine called the Sphere, which can transport him back in time. The catch is that the time machine can only go back seven days, leaving LaPaglia and his compatriots in the difficult position of choosing whether to spend that time researching how to change the course of history or simply looking up the past Wednesday's Super Lotto numbers.

If the premise made any sense, there wouldn't be a show. For instance, if you go back seven days in time to your office, wouldn't you run into yourself there? And then a month later, when you needed to go back in time to prevent your best friend from joining the Mercy Point fan club, wouldn't you run into two of yourself? One season into Seven Days, we'd have enough Jonathan LaPaglias to make a football team.

What spares Seven Days from the fate of Timecop is its attitude. Seven Days doesn't want to be serious drama like Voyager, not even when the series' plots involve such laugh-riot topics as presidential assassinations and genocidal plagues. Instead, it's a laugh-and-shoot action show, with LaPaglia opting for fistfights and car chases over the poker-faced sobriety of his government colleagues. The plots aren't brilliant, but they're clever enough to keep you following along, and sprinkled throughout are little humorous tidbits that keep you amused between the show's action sequences.

Seven Days will never be confused with classics of science fiction, but it's one of the better pieces of Silly Sci-Fi (for the kids or the adults) that I've seen in a while. It's Voyagers! without the damned kid. It's Early Edition with ticking bombs instead of sappy moralizing. It's MacGyver without the paper clips.

Will Seven Days be a good match for Star Trek: Voyager? Not a chance. At least, not unless an alien intruder pumps laughing gas into the Voyager air supply. But for good, clean dumb fun -- and with the likes of Vengeance Unlimited, Buddy Faro, and Fantasy Island this year, I think I've spotted a trend -- Seven Days delivers more entertainment than Voyager ever will.


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