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Stranded 'Crusoe' dreams of a better time

You don't have to be as clever and resourceful as Robinson Crusoe or his buddy Friday to realize that the last place a network television executive would want to dump a good new show is Friday night.

So why the heck is NBC putting "Crusoe," a surprisingly successful adaptation of the 18th century Daniel Defoe novel that has been read for generations, on such a low viewing night?

The beautifully photographed two-hour pilot of the 13-episode series is fun, loaded with adventure and romance, rarely slows down and features a star-making performance by Philip Winchester, the hunky, Montana-born actor who was trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, as Crusoe.

The primary things arguing against this family-friendly series is the 8 p.m. Friday time slot (it moves to a regular 9 p.m. Friday slot) and an American audience's unfamiliarity with an international cast of relative unknowns.

The biggest name in the cast is feature film actor Sam Neill ("Jurassic Park"), but the native of New Zealand only has a few minutes of screen time in flashbacks as Crusoe's mentor and godfather.

The sheer volume of flashbacks dealing with Crusoe's past gets a little annoying after a while and slows things down. But that's a minor complaint in an otherwise entertaining buddy show involving Crusoe and Friday (Zimbabwean actor Tongayi Chirisa), the native he named after saving his life.

"I read him 'Paradise Lost' and now he recites it back to me," Crusoe explains of Friday, who speaks multiple languages and is Crusoe's friend in the series and not the servant he was in Defoe's novel.

In this updating, Crusoe and Friday at times seem to have the kind of relationship that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had in the memorable Robert Redford-Paul Newman film. They are adventurers who have developed ingenious ways to survive (usually involving pulleys) on a deserted island whose peace is interrupted by a band of pirates, cannibals, storms and the Spanish army.

At the heart of the show is Crusoe's quest to leave the island and rejoin his wife, Susannah (Anna Walton of "Hell Boy II"), who is seen in romantic flashbacks. The lone female pirate -- a modern woman -- is surprised by Crusoe's loyalty and drawn even more to him because of it.

The series isn't for everyone, and cynics could easily trash the mere idea of doing yet another version of "Crusoe" for a 21st century audience, which most likely was inspired by the success of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

But with sword fights, beautiful scenery, MacGyver-lke creativity and occasional deadpan humor, "Crusoe" is a rousing and surprising success from NBC after the dismal premieres of "Knight Rider" and "Kath & Kim" and the complicated Christian Slater swing and a miss, "My Own Worst Enemy."

The biggest questions are 1) just who does NBC see as the audience for another version of "Crusoe," which has been done to death? and 2) Can the pace and the romance in subsequent episodes equal the two-hour pilot, or would this have been better served just as a movie?

If it fails on Fridays -- one of the lowest viewing nights of the week -- NBC might consider moving it to Wednesdays in place of "Knight Rider."


Violent and confusing

"Crash" is a new original series from Starz inspired by the Academy Award-winning movie that starred so many well-known actors in small roles.

It premieres on the pay-channel at 10 p.m. Friday and already has been available on demand.

Dennis Hopper is the only highly recognizable actor in the TV series. He plays an over-the-top, verbally abusive character (what a shocker for Hopper fans), an unpredictable out-of-control record producer in Hollywood with scary, violent and sexist tendencies.

In the first few minutes, crude language, nudity and violence are on display in HBO-like proportions.

There isn't a believable character in the strange opener, which features a couple of dirty cops, a dysfunctional married couple fighting over how to deal with a sick and abusive parent and fights between Asian gang members. And there are only a few characters to root for or even care about.

It's a violent and confusing mess than doesn't have any of the coherence or emotional power of the movie and ends with a thud. That said, pilots often go over-the-top before subsequent episodes are toned down. In the case of "Crash," things can only get better because they can't get much worse.



8 p.m. today

Channel 2

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)



10 p.m. today


Review: 1 star


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