Paranoia series is out to get you Preview: "Dark Skies" presents an impressive but nutty "alternative history." (Aliens killed Kennedy.)

September 21, 1996|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

OK, guys, what do you do if your girlfriend is the victim of an alien body invasion and the alien ganglion that invades her body takes up residence inside her head?

Thanks to having seen tonight's premiere of "Dark Skies," the new NBC paranoid/paranormal drama directed by Tobe ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre") Hooper, I know exactly what to do.

The really interesting part involves getting a giant bottle of nail-polish remover and a big syringe and injecting your beloved in the back of the skull, because aliens hate it when you inject them with nail-polish remover. And don't forget to keep her tied up in a chair after the injection, because she's going to start sounding like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" one minute and Julie London (I hope I'm not dating myself here) in those old Marlboro ads the next, saying she's fine when, in fact, the ganglion is merely lying low inside her head waiting to make one last tremendous life-crushing rush.

But, then, just when all hope of saving her seems lost, she'll vomit the alien ganglion right up and you can wrestle and stomp the vicious intergalactic critter until the floor runs green with its death ooze.

This is what's called a successful "cerebral eviction" by the doctor who works for the clandestine government agency, Majestic-12, in charge of fighting aliens from outer space on "Dark Skies," and, with all the aliens he has on his hands tonight, he should know.

As for viewers trying to plan what new series they will watch tonight, they should know that, as ridiculous as the "cerebral eviction" scene might sound, "Dark Skies" is one of the most intriguing new dramas of the season. If you like the dark, spooky, paranoid feel of "The X-Files," you do not want to miss tonight's impressive two-hour premiere of "Dark Skies."

The series is presenting what executive producer James D. Parriott calls "alternative history." The questions it asks: "What if most of the seminal events of the last 35 years were all caused by a stealth-like, extraterrestrial invasion, and what if a rogue agency of the U.S. government made its sole duty to confront the threat while covering up any trace of the deadly battle for fear of fanning public hysteria?"

That, too, might sound nutsy, but, like "The X-Files," there is an attractive young couple caught within this gyre of cover-up, conspiracy and secret warfare between aliens and the kinds of Washington warriors found in Tom Clancy novels. Also, like "The X-Files," the couple is involved in investigations of the paranormal.

Eric Close and Megan Ward play John Loengard and Kimberly Sayers, a pair of recent college graduates full of ideals and love for each other who come to Washington in 1961 to work in Congress and the Kennedy administration. But, during a routine fact-finding mission, Loengard stumbles across secret UFO information, and the rest, as Parriott says, is "alternative history."

The secret information Loengard uncovers confirms a UFO crash in 1947 near Roswell, N.M. -- just like the secret information finally given to the president in this summer's hit film, "Independence Day." The bookends of tonight's premiere are the desert outside Roswell and the grassy knoll in Dallas -- the Holy Land of American conspiracy theory.

Viewers of "Dark Skies" are told tonight that President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 because he found out about the aliens and Majestic-12. The only uncertainty is whether the aliens or the forces of Majestic-12, which was set up by President Eisenhower, killed Kennedy. The people who told Kennedy about the secret war: Loengard and Sayers. (This happened after Loengard successfully executed the cerebral eviction on her.)

I know it sounds like I am mocking this series, and, when it comes to premise and logic, I am. But, at a visceral level, the final shot of Loengard and Sayers in a car on the run -- with the dark skies of "Independence Day" overhead and Buffalo Springfield singing "For What It's Worth" on the soundtrack -- is powerful stuff.

In fact, "Dark Skies" and several other paranoid and/or paranormal dramas premiering this fall are so powerful emotionally that I think we need to start wondering what kind of sense the young viewers at whom this "alternative history" is targeted are making of it. History might be nothing more than the stories we tell about our past. But are these the kinds of stories we want to send our kids to bed with tonight?

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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