Screen Savors: Keep it in the past

Unlike the cult '60s series 'The Outer Limits' is an unimaginative exploration of humanity's greatest hopes and darkest fears.

the outer limits 248 88 (photo credit: )
the outer limits 248 88
(photo credit: )
Just being in our basement, with its creaky furnace, was enough to scare the daylights out of a kid, especially when watching The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone back in the '60s. Both shows have been reintroduced in new formats over the years, and curiosity led us to the new version of The Outer Limits on HOT Zone recently. While the old creaky furnace was missing from this viewing, so was just about anything vaguely resembling the cerebral scripts and general chill that characterized the original. This new version simply set new limits for telegraphing the standard "surprise" ending, bad acting and bad writing. OK, it's hard to get excited when you know the star of tonight's episode is Lou Diamond Phillips, a veteran actor who's turned up in a variety of B- or C-level series or movies. Here he was playing Kotter - no, not the teacher, but an army mad who'd volunteered for a top secret project that allowed a man's brain to be transferred into an android capable of performing Herculean tasks - except acting, apparently. True to the old version, at least the producers kept the cool opening of the original Outer Limits, with some tinkering. So the whole bit about "There is nothing wrong with your television. We control the horizontal and the vertical …For the next hour, we will control all that you see and hear" was pretty much left intact. But that was about the only part of the show that was on the par with the original. The episode, titled "Identity Crisis," started off with Kotter as the android doing all kinds of feats in the army lab, sparks flying everywhere. "Mother of God," said the army colonel, Pete, observing Kotter's heroics. But even she couldn't save us from this drivel. "Imagine a whole army of these things," said Pete to his commanding officer. "We've done more than just imagine," said the commander. Groan. Transferred through a special gizmo that allows his brain to be brought back into his original body from the android and vice versa, Kotter the man confidently says good-bye and goes home to wife Sally, who knows he's been working on a top-secret project, but not exactly what. "What I'm doing is making the world a better place, a safer place," says Kotter, a red-hot clue trouble's ahead, promising soon they'll get away together. "I'm not worried about vacations, sweetie," says Sally, "I'm worried about you." Double groan. "You're never happier than when you're living on the edge," says Sally. "I'm OK, really," says Kotter, before the two of them are shown making love, something the early '60s version would never have allowed. But they wouldn't have allowed the obvious plot development, either. So when the scientist in charge of the project mentions certain "glitches" in the program, and Kotter starts experiencing them, we know trouble's ahead. And when Pete shows up to pick up Kotter and mentions how he'd have grabbed Sally if Kotter hadn't seen her first, we know Pete's up to no good. Sure enough, the circuits go kablooey during a major test, and Kotter's left in the android's body. "You have to bring me back," pleads Kotter, Phillips really going over the top now in the role. Grabbing a gun, Kotter says; "Never argue with a man who's got nothing to lose, Pete," a reasonable argument. Of course, Kotter goes home to confront Sally as his new android self. "I can't stay," he says, "I just had to see you. I'm trapped inside this damn machine. I didn't want you to see me like this; this is all that's left of me." Groan again. After threatening the doctor who oversaw the project, Kotter gets him to go back to the lab to try to fix things, But - SURPRISE - who's there having already undergone the transformation into another android but…Pete. "As long as you were around, I'd always be second best," snarls Pete. They battle it out in the lab, until ultimately one of them wins, but we don't find out which until the last scene. Closing, it's back to the narrator - not as good as the original, either - with the observation: "When the day comes when the mind and body can be separated, what will happen to the soul?" Well, this soul had been shifting in his seat for about 45 minutes as the obvious plot unfolded and the bad script just got worse and worse. For pure fans of Sci-Fi, there are better offerings on our screens. For those who loved the original, besides the opening, don't look for anything like its old quality. As for changing bodies with androids, for now, spare tire and all, I think I'll keep the one I have, and my memories of the original Outer Limits. The Outer Limits airs Sunday through Thursday at 2:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. on HOT Zone.