Friday, December 02, 2005

CULT TV FRIDAY FLASHBACK # 17: Now and Again (1999-2000)

Love the series; but hate that damn title.

Does anyone out there recall Now and Again, a one-season wonder that aired on ABC at the turn of the last century, created by Glenn Gordon Caron, the auteur who brought us both Moonlighting and the current hit, Medium? If not, you're really missing something special. For Now and Again wasn't merely a good sci-fi show, but probably one of the fifty best in history, a real overlooked treasure.

Never heard of it? Well, that's probably because of that overly generic, simple title. It's not Once & Again, nor Time & Again. It's Now & Again. Got that? Right. Let's move on.

The tale depicted in Now and Again commenced as 45-year old Michael Wiseman (a role essayed by John Goodman) was told he was losing his job at Empire Insurance to a scheming little, 27-year old backstabber played by Chad Lowe. After a night on the town drinking with his old buddy and co-worker, Roger (Gerrit Graham), Wiseman headed home from Manhattan to his home in the suburbs, only to be accidentally pushed in front of a speeding subway -- and killed. Thus, Michael left behind a devastated family that included his beautiful but sharp-tongued wife, Lisa (Margaret Colin) and their troubled adolescent daughter, Heather (Heather Matazzaro).

But Wiseman's untimely demise was only the start of a very strange odyssey. In fact, following his death, Wiseman's brain was subsequently transplanted into an artificial body (Eric Close of Dark Skies), just moments after his death. Working for the government, the stern but brilliant scientist, Dr. Theodore Morris (Dennis Haysbert of 25) had thus engineered the world's first "super soldier," a hero in perfect physical condition. Only problem was that Morris required a living man's brain to control that perfectly-designed body. Formerly a hefty 292 lbs, the resurrected Wiseman - now conscious in a buff and healthy body of 25 years of age and a lean 172 lbs.- was delighted to know he had been given a second chance.

But there was a catch (isn't there always?) to his new life. The U.S. government insisted that Michael could no longer have any contact whatsoever with his beloved wife and daughter, on penalty of their deaths! For Michael, this accommodation was worse than damnation in Hell. A family man to his core, he was still very much in love with Lisa, and through the course of the series, he struggled to see her from time-to-time between missions saving the world from terrorists. Meanwhile, Lisa faced crises of her own. Through the treachery of Chad Lowe's character, she would not receive Michael's insurance money, meaning she could lose her house. So Lisa had to get a job. She also had to wrangle Heather, and face the prospect of being single at 40.

"Caron uses sci-fi to delve into the depths of familial love and loss," wrote Allan Johnson in Cinescape (March/April 2000) while covering Now & Again, "That such diverse themes work so well together is a tribute to Caron's talents a s a storyteller."

Writing in Variety, Ray Richmond noted that Now and Again was "quirky," "mesmerizing", "addictive" and "so wildly original it defies conventional categorization" (September 20, 1999, page 40). People Magazine called the program "stylish, clever and unpredictable," and Dr. Howard Margolin, host of Destinies the Voice of Science Fiction noted in my book, The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television that Now and Again was "as much human drama as it was straight action adventure. Probably more so."

Now and Again lasted only 22 episodes on CBS, and the impatient network pre-empted the show nearly constantly, for such mundane offerings as a Candid Camera "special" and the Miss USA Pageant. Worse, it scheduled the series against Regis Philbin's powerhouse ABC game show, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Despite all the great reviews, Now and Again was hard-to-find on the schedule (it aired - sometimes - on Friday night), and hard-to-remember because of the generic-sounding title.

But that doesn't mean it wasn't a brilliant superhero show; the next evolution of 1970s programming like The Six-Million Dollar Man and 1980s affairs like RoboCop, which, like Now & Again, focused on an artificial man with "super" powers. But the superhero aspect, though ultimately rewarding, was never as interesting on Now & Again as the romantic and emotional angles -- which were positively heart-wrenching. Michael dealt with jealousy in "On the Town," when Lisa began to date, for instance. In "By the Light of the Moon," Michael found himself falling for the lovely young Dr. Taylor (24's Reiko Aylesworth...) only to feel as though he was cheating on the wife he still loved. The very set-up of the series, which saw a middle-aged man literally replaced by a younger model, concerned such topics as ageism, and as viewers, e wondered, could a middle-aged suburban housewife find love with the young Michael Wiseman, or rather his alias, Michael Newman? And if so, would she be threatening her own safety (and her daughter's?) I hasten to add that the series ended on a tense cliffhanger note, with Michael escaping from Dr. Morris, grabbing up his family, and going on the run. It galls me to know that we will never know what happened next...

As I wrote in the superhero book, the very names that Michael goes by in Now & Again, (Wiseman and Newman) spell out the central thematic tenets of Now & Again. In exchanging an older, experienced physical body (and appearance) for that of a young man's, the wise man had become the new one. And of course, "man" is the suffix of many-a-superhero. Spider-Man, Super-Man, Aqua-Man, Bat-Man, etc. Now & Again offered audiences the blending of Wise-Man and New-Man, the heroic (and fantastic) combination of a learned, accomplished, experienced mind with a young, spectacularly fit body. This was an artistic conceit, and one that served the series quite well over time.

Alas, Now & Again isn't available on either video or DVD today, and the Sci-Fi Channel only seems to air it periodically. But the series is soooo worth looking for. Seek it out. You'll be surprised how touching and inventive Now & Again remains.

1 comment:

  1. jaycee dove9:19 AM

    So agree with all of this. I have turned people onto this show, which they would never have dreamt of watching of their own volition.

    Someone should get the creator together with BBC TV, bring them to the UK and remake the show here. Without the commercial pressure of ratings this is such a great concept it could run and run.

    Problem is no remake would recreate the perfect chemistry unless the same cast were involved and they are all onto new things.

    Maybe we can hope instead for a movie that brings them all back together - that would be realistic.

    If there was a top ten of criminal decisions made during TV hitory the premature axing of this show would win hands down.

    The most pertinent example of the sad maxim that sometimes a programme can be so good that you have to wait a few decades until the audience evolves toward the same level of sophistication as those who brought it to the screen.

    It will be remembered 50 years from now when crappy series that ran forever are long since forgotten. It was that good.

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