I caught Now & Again during it's first run on the UK Sci-Fi Channel in early 2001 and I was nothing short of blown away. My enthusiasm for the show was dulled only by the knowledge that it had already been cancelled stateside - another brilliant exec's move no doubt. That aside, Now & Again still remains a high point for television sci-fi drama.
To synopsise the plot :
Michael Wiseman (played somewhat appropriately by John Goodman) is a 45 year old insurance salesman with a happy marriage and a content - if somewhat typical - teenage daughter. After being passed over for a big promotion - and drinking away his sorrows afterwards - Michael is killed when he is accidently knocked into the path of an oncoming subway train.
Michael awakens to find himself before US Government scientist Dr Theodore Morris (played to unbelievable perfection by 24's Dennis Haysbert). Morris offers Michael a choice - he can either rest in peace, or he can become a part of the greatest government experiment in history. Since World War 2, Morris tells him, the government has spent billions on trying to create the perfect artificial human being. Now after three billion dollars of research, they've succeeded - the catch? They need a live human brain to transplant into it. Seeing it as his only chance to live, Michael accepts - and the fun begins...
Michael reawakens again to find himself in the body of an artificially created 26 year old man (now played excellently by Dark Skies' Eric Close) - the perfect human specimin, with (as Morris phrases it) the strength of Superman, the speed of Michael Jordan (he can run with a landspeed of approximately 30mph) and the grace of Fred Astaire (that one is never explained!). Assigned to undertake covert operations for the government under the watchful eye of Morris (or "Doc" as Michael names him), Michael begins his new life - taking down terrorists bent on unleashing nerve gas, fishing out government traitors and testing experimental technologies.
It's a good arrangement for all involved - but with one minor glitch : under penalty of death, Michael can never make contact with his wife, his daughter or anyone from his former life. They must believe that Michael Wiseman is dead. Along the way though, Michael's path crosses with his wife Lisa - forming an attraction between the two and creating no end of problems for the doc, who would like nothing more than keep them apart.
Although this sounds a fair bit like The Six Million Dollar Man (or in this case, The Three Billion Dollar Man), it's surprisingly fresh. Now & Again began with a three part pilot that laid the scene perfectly. Episode 1 showed us Wiseman's origins - his accident and resurrection, while Episode 2 showed both how Wiseman's abilities actually worked and how his loved ones had moved on since his death. Episode 3 is the launchpad for Michael's first proper mission, the first episode to really demonstrate the shape of things to come.
Episode 3 - entitled "Over Easy" - sets up the standard in that Now & Again manages to maintain the perfect formula. Although not every one of the 19 episodes that follow the pilot trilogy contain villains or a central bad guy, the show manages to combine aspects of science fiction, drama, suspense and a high level of comedy to a perfect ratio. There are no "comedy episodes", no "thriller episodes", each one contains the same perfect balance - one of the show's two biggest strengths.
The show's other - and rankly, biggest strength - is it's cast. Prior to Now & Again, I had seen every single cast member in another movie or show and despite Eric Close, none of them really blew me away. In fact, prior to Now & Again I found Gerrit graham to be a truly annoying performer that did nothing for me whatsoever. Combining these actors though is what makes the show. The entire cast has such an intense and believable chemistry between them that they really do charm you and make you a believer in each of them. Special kudos goes to Haysbert though, a truly terrific actor that until 24 was a virtual unknown. Haysbert plays Morris with such presence and charisma that on many occassions he manages to steal the spotlight away from the central character - not surprising when you consider that Morris is essentially the anti-hero of the piece. Graham, Colin and Matarazzo all turn in fine performances - although it has to be pointed out that most of the science fiction on the show comes from trying to believe that Matarazzo could actually be Margaret Colin and John Goodman's daughter given that there is zero physical resemblence.
Created by Glenn Gordon Caron - creator of "THAT show that gave the world Bruce Willis", Now & Again was the perfect show. It never overstepped the mark by trying to be something else, and it never condescended it's audience. When it needed comedy, it was funny. When it needed sci-fi, it maintained believability. When it needed action, it had you on the edge of your seat. It was the perfect project and I fully believe that had it continued for a few seasons, it would have made huge stars out of both Eric Close and Dennis Haysbert.
That said, no show is perfect and Now & Again did have several flaws during it's run. Predictably the biggest flaw was the dynamic between Michael and Lisa Wiseman - the entire basis of their relationship was that he was her ressurected-husband-turned-superhuman and that she didn't know but was attracted to him anyway. Although the chemistry between the pair was utterly convincing to even the most anally retentive skeptics, the convienient ways that their paths constantly seemed to cross (without Lisa discovering the truth) has been outdone only by Lois & Clark in terms of pure frustration. Another flaw would be the lack of growth in Matarazzo's character of Heather Wiseman. Heather's character in the pilot is spot for spot the same as her character in the finale, no growth whatsoever. Although attempts were obviously made to centre episodes around the character, they flat-out didn't work - leaving her as the token troubled teen of the piece.
And finally we come to the show's big finale - the send-off entitled "The Eggman Cometh". Again a fantastic balance of all the genres, the finale didn't so much tie up loose ends as it did tangle them up a little bit. Lisa and Michael's relationship became more intense, while the relationship between Michael and the doc began to degrade quickly - building on both character's underlying frustrations with each other. Although I will not go so far as to flat out spill the details of the finale (I went into it blind and I was on the edge of my seat, I wouldn't have wanted it ruining for me), it ended with a cliffhanger that could have fuelled at least another half a season of the show, if not altered the dynamic for years to come.
I'll put it simply : Now & Again was great, it was pulled before it's time, it shouldn't have been. CBS should at least give us a TV movie to tie up the loose ends. That would be a decent end at least.
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