ABC's new 'Prey' moves into 'X-Files' territory dTC

Today's TV

January 15, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach

Forget about melting polar caps. The real problem with global warming, according to a new series debuting on ABC tonight, is what it's doing to our DNA.

According to "Prey" (8 p.m.-9 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2), slowly warming temperatures over the past 100 years have altered human DNA enough (varying it by 1.6 percent, a pretty substantial amount when it comes to genetics) to create a new species. They look just like us, but there's a key difference: They have no emotions, which they insist makes them far superior.

So, evolution being what it is -- survival of the fittest and all that -- they decide the only thing to do is kill off their inferiors, including a scientist who is on to them.

Tonight's premise makes science appear a lot easier than it is, but does a nice job of setting up the element of suspense that will either make or break the series: Since the bad guys look just like us, it's almost impossible to know who they are until it's too late. The only distinguishing mark is their relentlessly laconic manner (think the pod people from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"), but the series' producers turn that to the show's advantage by having just about everyone stare blankly a lot and talk in a monotone.

All this makes for an interesting beginning, and Debra Messing and Vincent Ventresca are engaging as the plucky researchers out to expose the bad guys. But outside "The X-Files," which has had a lock on the "don't trust anyone" market, series based on paranoia tend to grow stale. If "Prey" takes a page from Scully and Mulder and leavens the proceedings with a dash of humor -- there's none evident tonight -- it could help keep Thursday nights interesting, even after "Seinfeld" signs off.

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