by Pete Schulberg

Subway hurtles new bionic man into CBS series

Lee Majors, eat your heart out.

A made-for-the-millennium bionic man is about to appear in prime time.

And he's younger, smarter and more emotionally complicated than your "Six Million Dollar Man" version ever was.

"Now and Again," a new and different CBS drama, follows the adventures and inner turmoil of Michael Wiseman, an insurance company executive turned superhuman.

This guy, from the get-go, is worth a lot more than $6 million, even adding inflation. And the series, which is not to be confused with ABC's "Once and Again" -- although it certainly will be --is worth a good look.

As the quirky story line unfolds, it seems that the U.S. government has taken Wiseman's brain and successfully inserted it into a manufactured body.

But this is no curse of Frankenstein. This guy doesn't scare anybody, except maybe himself.

The old Wiseman, played by John Goodman, is knocked off early in the initial episode. Seems that after a bad day at the office, our hero has one drink too many and falls in front of a speeding subway train.

But it's alive! His brain, that is.

When he -- uh, his brain -- wakes up, it is greeted by Dr. Theodore Morris, who apparently heads up the project.

"Your brain is hooked up to computers, so I can hear what you're thinking," says Morris, elegantly played by Dennis Haysbert, one of the few African American actors in a lead role on a new network series.

With that one line alone, the series ventures beyond the normal boundaries of drama, sci-fi and maybe even comedy.

Eric Close ("Dark Skies") plays the young Wiseman, who, as Morris tells him, cannot ever contact anyone from his "first life."

"You're not selling insurance anymore," Morris says.

"Can I fly like Superman?" young Wiseman asks. The answer is no -- and, as Morris explains, he can't see through people's clothes, either.

He is, however, given his own spiffy apartment and, as the CBS publicity department has told us, will be called on to fight bad guys.

None of that in the premiere, except we see two scenes involving an old, Asian gentleman who causes mass terror with some lethal eggs. I don't understand it either, but we're bound to learn more as a result of this juicy teasing.

Wiseman -- the new Wiseman -- still misses his wife (Margaret Colin), who has problems of her own. Seems that her husband's nasty ex-boss is withholding the life insurance money that should rightfully go to wife and daughter.

Reminds me of the story of "Damn Yankees," when a young Joe Hardy is trying to win the pennant for the Washington Senators but what really matters is returning to his old life with his equally lonely wife.

The premiere tended to drag in spots, especially toward the end of the hour. But at least this isn't one of those action-filled, shoot'em-ups set to pulsating rock music.

It's a little more cerebral -- as in old brain, new body -- than that.

September 24, 1999