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Sleepless in Seattle
"Dark Angel," "The Fugitive,"
and new shows on NBC and CBS

In "Dark Angel," Jessica Alba plays a beautiful escapee from a secret government compound, chilling in Washington State, a biker by day and a thief by night.

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On the prowl: Dark Angel's Alba.  

On the lam is an American state of mind, an agitated itchiness, a furious becoming -- from Huck Finn to the Weather Underground with intermediate stops at the Last of the Mohicans, the Lost Generation, Jack Kerouac, Billy Pilgrim, "Rabbit" Angstrom, and Henderson the Rain King. Television especially loves these Shane-like vanishing acts, because their trajectories converge with the commercial message: Change identities; change brands. So no sooner has The Pretender fallen out of prime time than we get Dark Angel (Tuesdays, starting October 3; 9 to 11 p.m.; Fox) and The Fugitive (Fridays, starting October 6; 8 to 9 p.m.; CBS).

Being a hyper kind of guy, I prefer postapocalyptic to sixties retro. Besides, there's more to look at in Dark Angel than anything on television since Lori Singer in VR.5. Who knows if Jessica Alba can really act? All the two-hour pilot requires of her is that she be sullen and exotic, sort of Angelina Jolie-ful, a bruised peach and a tart plum, plus some martial artistry. "You got a punk-ass attitude on you, kid," she's told. And why not? She is, after, all a "chimera." Stamped on her neck is the pomo equivalent of the concentration-camp tattoo: a bar code. She was stolen as a child by "Project Manticore," a secret government lab in the mountains where her genes were engineered. She went over the wire one night with a courageous band of shaved heads in djellabas, pursued by snowmobiles and submachine guns. She is hiding out in a Seattle even grungier after a nuke-related electromagnetic pulse has flattened the New Economy. By day, as if plagiarized from the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson or Neal Stephenson, she's a biker chick delivering messages. By night, like Batwoman with a bungee cord, she's a thief.

One of the flats she burgles just happens to belong to Michael Weatherly, the underground-pirate cyber-journalist who is waging guerrilla war, via video streaming, against the dictatorship of John Savage and his fascist goons. Terrible things happen to Michael while John is looking for Jessica. Terrible things also happen, in a laundromat, to a private eye hired by Jessica to hack into John's computer files. Even so, Jessica will prove to be a reluctant go-girl freedom fighter, preferring to nest in a multiculti youth hostel, cruise the technogarbage streets with a lesbian sidekick, and steal. But executive producers James Cameron and Charles Eglee won't let her be. She must instead become.

Whereas, by now, surely The Fugitive has gone by, no matter how much money is spent on scattershot location shooting -- Miami! Savannah! New Orleans! Atlantic City! -- and in spite of the fact that Tim Daly as Richard Kimble, the doctor who didn't murder his wife, can actually muster different emotions for different occasions, while David Janssen, who looked for the one-armed man throughout the sixties, seemed mostly to be contemplating whether an antacid tablet might relieve him of the heartbreak of psoriasis. I'll also grant that casting Mykelti Williamson as the relentless cop Gerard improves on Barry Morse from the previous series, sidesteps comparisons with Tommy Lee Jones in the 1993 movie, and establishes a welcome change of vibe, as if maybe we are meant to think about O.J. Still, during the middle of the emergency tracheotomy high atop the skyscraper construction site, I found myself wondering how many cliffs they can hang on a pinhead.

Let me say this about the first week of the new NBC season: Titans (Wednesdays, starting October 4; 8 to 9 p.m.) -- in which Aaron Spelling mates with Yasmine Bleeth to whelp Beverly Hills vexations for the superrich Williams clan of Perry King, Victoria Principal, Jack Wagner, Casper Van Dien, Josie Davis, and John Barrowman -- is the sort of trash TV that gives camp a bad name and is likely to embarrass The West Wing, which immediately follows, with a whole new audience it shouldn't want. Whereas Ed (Sundays, starting October 8; 8 to 9 p.m.) -- a wonderful whimsy in which Tom Cavanagh, having been fired by his big-city law firm and then cuckolded by his wife and their mailman, moves back to his hometown in the sticks to buy a bowling alley and pursue his high-school sweetheart, a radiant Julie Bowen -- is a Northern Exposure sort of show on the wrong network. It's just not flashy enough. Imagine double-dating with the ghosts of relationships past. I like Ed a lot. I wish it were on CBS instead of Touched by an Angel, with which it will be competing.

And let me say this about the two new CBS cop shows: The District (Saturdays, starting October 7; 10 to 11 p.m.) is offensive not only because it asks us to root for a white man taking over as police commissioner in Washington, D.C., and telling all these incompetent and corrupt black people how to do things right for a change but also because the white man is Craig T. Nelson. Than whom, especially in his amped-up presumption mode, there is no bigger blimp of Bobby Knight self-righteousness. Never mind Lynn Thigpen and Jayne Brook, both of whom I like a lot. One thinks instead of a line from William Gass's novel The Tunnel: "I suspect that the first dictator of this country will be called Coach."

Whereas CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Fridays, starting October 6; 9 to 10 p.m.), with William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Gary Dourdan, George Eads, and Jorja Fox as a Las Vegas crime-scene-investigation team of forensic pathologists who track down killers by way of anal swabs, toenail clippings, and even poisoned nipples, is far too intelligent to lead in to Nash Bridges, even though Nash has managed to lose Yasmine Bleeth to Aaron Spelling. Back in the good old days of China Beach, I used to have rescue fantasies about both Marg Helgenberger and Dana Delany. Neither of these women needed rescuing, of course. I fantasized their rescuing me.

Finally, in head-to-head competition with CSI, we have Freakylinks (Fridays, starting October 6; 9 to 10 p.m.; Fox), in which Ethan Embry, Lisa Sheridan, Karim Prince, and Lizette Carrion look so hard for the paranormal and its associated cults -- on a woo-woo Website devoted to everything that's weird, at a roadside bar full of exploding lap dancers, and in bathtubs full of dead twin brothers -- that they end up, when they aren't videotaping themselves, time-traveling back to sinister sites like Roanoke, Virginia, where a whole colony lost itself. Executive producer Tommy Thompson has already jumped this ship, the Blair Witch co-conspirators seem to have gotten lost in the woods along the way, and Fox promises more laughs in future episodes, as if buying a severed head on the black market weren't hilarious.


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