Roads scholars travel down 'Route 66'

June 08, 1993|By Ed Bark | Ed Bark,Dallas Morning News

Having graduated from schools of hard knocks, Nick Lewis and Arthur Clark yearn to be roads scholars.

Their mentor is a mint condition '61 Corvette convertible that grades on the curve. Their learning experiences invariably involve a curvy girl or two encountered during detours from long, lonesome highways. You're now up to speed on NBC's "Route 66," distant relative of the original 1960s series starring Marty Milner and George Maharis as Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock.

Sight unseen, I assumed the new "Route 66," [which premieres tonight at 8 on WMAR (Channel 2),] would be something of a tired car-toon. But the first two episodes prove to be smoothly tuned vehicles for two hunky spark plugs.

Before summer's end, James Wilder and especially Dan Cortese are going to be all over the covers of teen mags and maybe even "Car and Driver." Count on the biggest pimple eruption since the "Beverly Hills, 90210" stars laid claim to the hearts and hormones of the young and the restless.

Mr. Cortese already has a following as host of "MTV Sports" and as the pitchman for Burger King. Mr. Wilder, of ABC's short-lived "Equal Justice" series, until now has been kicking around prime time without taking hold. On "Route 66," they've both cornered the market on killer good looks; they're otherwise suitably mismatched.

Mr. Wilder is welder Nick Lewis, illegitimate son of Buz Murdock.

"He was just passin' through. That's when he met my mother," Nick says of Buz after learning he has just died. "My old man, Buz Murdock, who I hated because I never got to know him in the first place."

But Buz has left a will. And where there's a will, there's a way for Nick to let bygones be bygones. He journeys to Buz's rented home to find the remnants of a broken-down recluse: a nearly empty whiskey bottle, cards frozen in a game of solitaire, a well-used ashtray and a half-empty jar of peanuts. Some inheritance.

Before heading back to Allentown, Pa., however, Nick checks the garage. He discovers a showroom-fresh Corvette and knows just what to do with it. But en route back home, he encounters the hitchhiking Arthur Clark (Mr. Cortese), a fast-talking, quick-quipping fugitive from an uncaring father.

Their initial conversation pretty much sets the parameters of their relationship and the show itself.

Nick: "Tell me somethin', are you lost?"

Arthur: "Define 'lost.' "

"Well, you don't know who you are, and you don't know where you're goin'."

Pause, one-two. "Yeah, I'm lost."

Mr. Cortese manages to be a space cadet without your wanting to send him to the moon. He often talks a stream worthy of Bruce Willis in season one of "Moonlighting." Mr. Wilder is stuck with being the more down-to-earth of the two. But his wanderlust merely needs a kick start, and he's now hooked up with just the guy for the job.

Their first pit stop, a honky-tonk, allows them to meet the sculpted Lily (Stacy Haiduk), in whom Arthur takes an immediate interest. His wisecracks land him two punches to the chops from Lily's hillbilly suitor. The boys and Lily escape together but are soon apart when she steals the Corvette. Lily, it turns out, is on the lam from a sugar daddy who wants her back and has sent two thugs to retrieve her. Nick and Arthur later reclaim the Corvette -- and Lily -- with help from a well-connected kid wearing an "I'm a member of the cultural elite" T-shirt.

"Route 66" is pretty good work all around. The lead characters are appealing, the writing has some traction and the expected chase scenes are missing in action. All in all, this is a welcome summer series that deserves a spot on the network's fall schedule.

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