'John Doe' theme intriguing

Friday, September 20, 2002

Australian actor Dominic Purcell plays the enigmatic title character in "John Doe," (8 p.m., Fox), in which he wakes up one morning on an emerald island near Seattle and doesn't have a clue about his past, his name or how he got there. What he does know is that he knows everything. Yes, he's Alex Trebek's worst nightmare. He knows how many blue Buicks are registered in Washington state, the industrial building code for 1964 and the weight of the sun. And he also can instantly adapt to any situation. Put him into a helicopter and he can fly it. Talk to him in a Cambodian dialect and he can respond in kind. Just don't ask him his name, how he got the strange tattoo on his chest, or why he seems to see the world in grainy black and white.

Despite these existential qualms, Doe adapts quickly to the modern word. He uses his vast knowledge of probability and world economics to score a fortune at the track and in the futures market. He then buys a loft and a racecar and adopts the life of a piano player in a trendy bar. There he meets artist Karen (Sprague Grayden), his only friend and sidekick, as well as groovy bar owner Digger (William Forsythe).

Everything changes when Doe sees a TV news report of a kidnapped child. For reasons he can't explain, he sees her image in color. Doe believes that this mystery girl may hold clues to his unexplained origins. Doe then employs his omnivorous brain to help police officer Frank Hayes (John Marshall Jones) track down the girl and her abductor.

This search inspires Doe to dedicate his life to free-lance private investigations, a career choice that also gives structure to this intriguing series. Unfortunately for the viewers, Doe's lonely genius status forces him to spend most of this pilot episode talking to himself in a ponderous voice-over. One hopes future episodes will provide Doe with more friends, colleagues and opportunities for real dialogue.

� If John Doe knows everything, maybe he can explain why Fox can't program a hit on Friday nights. The futuristic space western "Firefly" (7 p.m., Fox) has to be one of the season's biggest disappointments. Created, written and produced by Josh Whedon, the talented executive behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," this baffling space dud concerns rebels who pilot a ship named Serenity on the far reaches of the galaxy, away from the clutches of the despotic Alliance government.

The slow pilot introduces us to the brash Captain Mal (Nathan Reynolds) and a hodgepodge of crew and passengers including a space priest and a space prostitute. For reasons unknown, Whedon and his writers have opted to abandon all of the humor and irony that made "Buffy" so popular and original. The results are grim.

Tonight's other highlights

� Scheduled on "48 Hours" (7 p.m., CBS): how paper cuts and other seemingly trivial wounds can result in fatalities.

� Four beauties become bank robbers in the 1996 heist drama "Set it Off" (7 p.m., UPN).

� A perky teen (Amanda Byrnes) moves in with her older sister (Jennie Garth), a neurotic New York professional, in the debut episode of "What I Like About You" (7 p.m., WB). This comedy tries too hard in every way.

� Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (8 p.m., CBS): repeat profiles of Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Shirley MacLaine and Candice Bergen.

� Scheduled on "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC): an idealistic teen who volunteered for medical tests discusses his disillusionment with the medical profession.

� Reba is shocked by Brock and Barbara Jean's lifestyle on the second season premiere "Reba" (8 p.m., WB).

� A Mexican-American family adjusts after movin' on up in the debut episode of "Greetings From Tucson" (8:30 p.m., WB). The family shows some promise, but the main character David is burdened by smarmy Hollywood brat-speak.