Can You Dig It?

Narrative Chops: Searching for Mom and Mammon beneath the streets of Paris and Berlin in Veritas.Photo: Jonathan Wenk/ABC

It isn’t just perversity that makes me prefer Veritas: The Quest over the rest of the brand-new post–Super Bowl network dramatic series sneaking up on us to start a second season. Veritas may be ridiculous, but at least it’s different. Dreamed up by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, the screenwriters who gave us Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it has an amiable, picaresque comic-book feel, as if Indiana Jones, Holden Caulfield, and the A-Team had all gone looking for Atlantis.

“Is my dad Batman?” Nikko Zond (Ryan Merriman) wants to know. This is a joke, but teenage Nikko, a specialist in getting expelled from every East Coast prep school he has gone to in the decade since his archaeologist mother vanished on a dig, has begun to suspect that his father, Solomon (Alex Carter), is someone other than the college professor he pretends to be. Solomon also runs the Veritas Foundation, whose hard-body scientists have a habit of getting shot at while trying to find the ruins, and decode the secrets, of lost civilizations. I won’t get into the cosmogony or eschatology of the series except to say that you’re likely, on the one hand, to wonder all over again what strange secret the ancient Rosicrucians were supposed to possess; and, on the other hand, to rethink those flying-saucer cults waiting to be raptured up to Sirius the Dog Star.

So far, in two weeks of Veritas, while Nikko and his comely grad-student tutor (Cobie Smulders) tag along with Solomon and the kung fu scientists, we’ve been deep below ground, among unholy relics, in both Paris and Berlin, while mention is also made of the polar ice caps and Peru. We’ve been asked to worry about End Time and neo-Nazis. And we probably feel that Solomon should pay less attention to tomb-raiding leather girl Liz Vassey and more to his heartsick smart-aleck son. Veritas has narrative chops.

Whereas Dragnet only has Ed O’neill. Well, it also has Dick Wolf to reconceive Jack Webb’s old series, speeding up the dum-de-dum-dum. And Lindsay Crouse as Joe Friday’s police captain, which certainly wouldn’t have happened in the old L.A. And I like Ed O’Neill, who was always better than Married … With Children. Why not a Friday who can act? But not even a quote from Josef Stalin can energize a by-the-numbers debut devoted to a copycat Hillside Strangler.

What Kingpin wants to be is the godfather stuck in Traffic. Without the Steven Soderbergh movie that was itself a remake of the British TV mini-series, executive producer David Mills (The Corner) would never have been able to hire so many talented Latino actors—Yancey Arias, Bobby Cannavale, Angela Alvarado Rosa—to play drug lords and the agents who hate them in another wet dream about the War on Pharmaceuticals. How this works is that you apply the best production values on top of a delusion that operatic excess will make thugs somehow Shakespearean.

Try not to miss War Stories, with Jeff Goldblum, Lake Bell, Jeffrey Nordling, and Louise Lombard as journalists covering the U.S. military and Islamic militants in Uzbekistan. It may not be the best foreign-correspondent/danger-junkie movie ever made, but it does actually manage to raise some nagging questions about our War on Terror that all our network news divisions have been shying away from faster than a speeding Patriot.

Veritas: The Quest
Mondays, 8 to 9 p.m.; ABC.

Sundays, 10 to 11 p.m.; ABC.

Sundays and Tuesdays, 10 to 11 p.m.; NBC.

War Stories
January 29, 8 to 10 p.m.; NBC.

Can You Dig It?