The only sure thing about the future is that it never really arrives -- the present just keeps moving along, changing slowly and undramatically. But projecting the future is standard practice in science fiction, and quite a disparity of future-thought is on display in a couple television premieres this weekend.
At 8 tonight on Channel 54 (WNUV), the new syndicated series "Super Force" projects a relatively gloomy 21st century. American cities seem to have been ceded to criminals, corporate competition is literally deadly and salvation comes only through the intervention of the title character, a righteous cop equipped with a high-tech suit of armor, a big Harley and fancy weaponry.
A far more hopeful, longer view is the consistent backdrop of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," whose season premiere airs locally at 6 p.m. tomorrow on Channel 45 (WBF) (Washington's Channel 20 (WDCA) has the show at 6 p.m. today). Harking back to the original series of the late 1960s, the "Star Trek" future is one in which humans have finally resolved most of our differences and are reaching into the cosmos with hope and faith.
The "Star Trek" premiere, not made available for preview, may or may not resolve the fate of Capt. Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). In last spring's cliff-hanger closing, he had been teleported aboard a spacecraft by the fearsome Borg and turned into a half-man, half-robot.
"Super Force" premieres tonight with a two-hour movie, then moves into its regular 4:30 p.m. Saturday slot on Oct. 6. (Part of a "super hour," the show follows "Super Boy" at 4 p.m., and both repeat the following week at 8 and 8:30 a.m. Saturdays).
The regular screening time indicates the show is aimed at a youngish audience, which helps explain a relatively shallow depth and a heavy reliance on special effects and pyrotechnics.
But the production values are high and the premiere is worth watching solely for a preposterous yet mesmerizing performance one-time Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy as some kind of an Eastern mystic villain. (He is identified coyly in the press kit as having come to national attention "as a result of the infamous Watergate break-in." There's no mention of his conviction and hard prison time.)
Set in 2020, the series borrows from a hodge-podge of sci-fi and other sources, from the name of its central city setting -- Metroplex, evoking "Superman's" Metropolis -- to a line where a character calls a Mars astronaut, "the original Martian chronicler," a nice nod to Ray Bradbury's great "The Martian Chronicles." Among other works of which viewers may be reminded are "The Six Million Dollar Man," "Knight Rider" and "Max Headroom" from TV, and "Star Wars," "Robocop" and even "Dirty Harry" from the movies.
In tonight's opener, astronaut Zach Stone (Ken Olandt) returns as a hero after a space mission, but finds his father is dead and his police officer brother has disappeared, allegedly after turning bad. What's more, "industrial magnate" mentor E.B. Hungerford (Patrick "The Avengers" MacNee) is the target of a plot by rival tycoon Satori (Liddy).
Stone enrolls in the police academy so he, too, can become a cop to clear his brother's name. And he soon joins forces with Larry B. Scott as science whiz F.X. Spinner -- get it? FX is movie shorthand for special effects -- to create a one-man crime-fighting force.
Revealing much more would spoil things for viewers, although much action is of the familiar, easily predictable shoot-'em-up-cop-show variety.
Some clever touches in "Super Force" include a lighted street sign (in the center city area, which is called simply and unsubtly "The Crime Zone") that displays the temperature and a measure of "atomic activity" as well, a bum with a sign that reads, "Repent! The World is never coming to an end," and a hooker who asks for payment in "a few hundred yen." (The show postulates increasing Japanese influence in the world.)