Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Avalon 5?

By Devin D. O'Leary

JUNE 14, 1999:  I was never a huge fan of sci-fu guru J. Michael Straczynski's space opera "Babylon 5" (although I did admire his groundbreaking work on "The Real Ghostbusters"). It's not that I disliked "B5" -- it's just that the show's dense mythology and detailed story arc discouraged casual viewing. Either you made the commitment and watched "Babylon 5" straight through seasons one to five, or you were lost.

Now that the fan fave series has wrapped up production, Straczynski has fashioned a new, limited-run spin-off in hopes of A) appeasing old fans, and B) ensnaring new ones. Having seen the first, easily accessible episode of "Crusade," I'd have to place myself firmly in the second category.

Taking place in the same universe as "Babylon 5," but concentrating on an entirely different mythology, "Crusade" begins in the year 2267 with the Earth fighting off a vicious invasion by the alien Drakh race. Earth forces triumph, but not before the vindictive Drakh unleash their final revenge: a biogenetic plague that will wipe out all life on Earth in five years if a cure is not found.

Wandering into this chaotic situation is a deep-space exploration vessel and its no- nonsense, get-the-job-done commander, Captain Matthew Gideon (stone-faced Gary Cole, best known as the demonic sheriff on "American Gothic" and the equally frightening Brady pater in the recent Brady Bunch movies). Gideon is quickly drafted to command a new, experimental warship dubbed Excalibur. The Earth Alliance wants Gideon to scour the galaxy in search of a cure for the Drakh plague. No pressure or anything. He's got five whole years before humanity is wiped.

Among the patchwork crew of Excalibur are a telepathic first officer (Daniel Dae Kim), an alien thief (Carrie Dobro) and a highly motivated medical officer (Marjean Holden). On their first assignment, the crew find themselves tracking a Drakh warship which has crashed on a remote planet. While battling the skull-headed nasties and rescuing a space archeology team, Captain Gideon comes to realize he is being shadowed by a mysterious "technomage" named Galen (Peter Woodward, last seen in Babylon 5: A Call To Arms). With an impossible quest, a rag-tag collection of knights, a powerful weapon named Excalibur and a shadowy wizard, "Crusade" has all the requisite elements for an engagingly space-age Arthurian legend.

The show's special effects are all computer-generated, but they work fine on the small screen. Acting is occasionally stiff, but hopefully the actors will grow comfortable in their already interesting roles. Not that they have much time -- in just 13 episodes, "Crusade" will wrap up its storyline. ... At least I know where my TV dial will be set for the next three months.

"Crusade" premiered June 9. The series will continue every Wednesday at 8 p.m. on TNT.

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