USA Today
By Robert Bianco

'Now and Again,' a gem in the rough

Glenn Gordon Caron has done it again.

Creator of that groundbreaking classic Moonlighting, Caron is back after too long an absence with Now and Again ( 3 out of four stars, CBS, tonight, 9 ET/PT). Once again, he's going his own idiosyncratic way, producing a curious hybrid that looks like little else on TV.

After all, there aren't many shows that get billed by their network as ''an action/comedy/drama/romance'' -- or that open with the image of a small boy bleeding to death, murdered by some poisonous gas-wielding Japanese ''eggman.''

For that matter, you won't find many shows that kill off their biggest name in the first 15 minutes, just so scientists can transplant his brain into a young body they've created in their lab. That briefly seen star is John Goodman as Michael Wiseman, a middle-aged schlump of an insurance agent with a wife and daughter (Margaret Colin and Heather Matarazzo, two fine actresses who merit more to do). Passed over at work for a promotion in favor of some 27-year-old kid he trained, Michael gets drunk -- and gets pushed in front of a subway.

He wakes up as a brain in a bottle, being given a choice by Dr. Theodore Morris (Dennis Haysbert): Let them put his brain into some perfect body they've engineered (Eric Close), or they pull the plug. It's Michael's chance to live the American dream: ''Look good, be young, be omnipotent.''

The cost? He can't contact anyone in his past. It's a sci-fi Damn Yankees, only instead of winning the pennant, he's saving the world.

Or I guess that's what he'll end up doing, since the first hour ends before he does much of anything. We don't even know what powers he has yet, other than unusual strength, agility and private endowments.

More to the point, we don't know where Caron is headed with a show that is, for now, more intriguing than enthralling -- and a bit stifling.

Instead of supporting Michael or letting him (and us) get a little pleasure out of his new powers, Morris seems intent on torturing him. They spent a lot of money on his mind; you'd think they'd take better care of it.

Still, the cast is strong, and there's something about their show that holds your interest. At the very least, you may leave feeling you have to come back next week -- if only to figure out what happened this week.

That will do for now.

September 24, 1999