'Brimstone': Good talent, devilishly confusing PreviewBounty hunter Peter Horton seeks lost souls. Even if he finds them, they're not saved. Although he might be.

October 23, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

How many times can network television rewrap the same package and get one more sale out of an old idea?

"Brimstone," a new Fox drama debuting tonight, might sound as if it's never been done before. It stars Peter Horton ("thirtysomething") as a bounty hunter from hell tracking down 113 souls that escaped back to Earth. The escaped souls are among the most vile hell has ever known. Stone is working for the devil, who is not at all happy about the big escape.

But Stone is essentially playing Steve McQueen's role in "Wanted: Dead or Alive" on CBS from 1958 to 1961, with numerous variations on the bounty-hunter formula ever since. Instead of tracking down the souls of dead bad guys in the big city, McQueen did it with living outlaws on the frontier. But, then, our big cities have become the new frontier of prime-time television -- the wild, savage, untamed territory where only lawmen and -women as bad as the bad guys appear on dramas like "NYPD Blue."

There's considerable talent in "Brimstone," with Horton as bounty hunter Ezekiel Stone and Baltimore's Tony-Award-winning John Glover as Satan. But the pilot has big problems, the main one being a weak and confusing script that might take the somewhat complicated premise beyond the grasp of many viewers.

Here's some help with parts of the premise that are not at all clear:

Stone can earn heavenly redemption if he captures all the escaped souls.

Each time he captures a soul, a corresponding tattoo branded on him by the devil vanishes.

Stone, a former police detective, is in hell for avenging his wife's rape by killing her attacker in cold blood.

Each of the escaped souls has supernatural powers that Stone does not possess.

Got all of that? With a better script, you wouldn't need me to explain.

Being a big Glover fan, I once wrote that I would follow a Glover performance -- even one as limited as this -- anywhere. I guess that now means even to hell.

And, so, I will go to Fox Fridays at 8 at least for a couple of weeks of "Brimstone." Overall, the series isn't much, but the devil makes me do it.

** 1/2

TV premiere

What: "Brimstone"

When: 8 to 9 tonight

Where: Fox (WBFF, Channel 45)

Pub Date: 10/23/98

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