Houston Chronicle
by R. D. Heldenfels

Unpredictable 'Now and Again'
spices up show with a little chaos

It takes some doing to bring a person back from the dead once, let alone twice.

But Glenn Gordon Caron is planning to do it on his fine romantic comedy-drama series Now and Again. And given how the series has gone so far, he'll probably pull it off.

The series began with John Goodman playing an insurance man, Michael Wiseman, killed in a subway accident. Though his body is destroyed, Michael's brain is saved and transplanted into a new, scientifically engineered body (courtesy of actor Eric Close) for use in special government projects.

The last we saw of Goodman was in the series' premiere, though Now and Again creator Caron said awhile back that Goodman "keeps calling and joking about his identical twin cousin Larry making an appearance."

And in a recent telephone interview from his New York offices, Caron said, "John Goodman is coming back."

Caron was hazy about the details, not surprising on a show that likes to startle viewers with sudden turns in plot and dialogue.

Still, he said, "It's not technically a flashback. It's something dealing with the life of Michael Wiseman before he was killed."

It's also something that wasn't clear to Caron when the series started last fall. At a press conference last July, he said that if Goodman were to come back, "I think it should be for an important reason ... and in some important context, which I haven't figured out yet."

Writer-producer-director Caron, who has worked mainly on big-screen films after making a TV splash with the 1985-89 series Moonlighting, set out to make a TV show that offered almost limitless possibilities.

"I've always worried that ... repetition would kill me," he said. Now and Again offers a foundation for variety.

The body-changing story sets up fantasy adventures. Michael's relationship with the brilliant scientist Theodore Morris (Dennis Haysbert) at times recalls buddy comedies. Michael's emotional ties to his wife Lisa (Margaret Colin) -- who is not allowed to know Michael is alive -- give the show an aching romantic underpinning. Even Michael's daughter Heather (Heather Matarazzo) takes center stage at times. And thosecharacters have led into ruminations on faith, marital love and the very nature of identity.

That array of characters and situations has a practical effect beyond stories. Moonlighting was focused on stars Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, so problems with either could stall the show.

Now and Again, Caron said, "is much more, by design, an ensemble format. ... No one feels the oppressive weight of carrying the show."

Still, for all the thought that went into the new series, Caron has seen other things as he's gone along.

Of Colin, he said: "I was just blown away by her in the pilot, and she just continues to amaze me. She brings this wonderful mix of ache and humanity." Close, meanwhile, has shown a finely tuned knack for comedy -- ever more evident in the hilarious Wiseman-Morris relationship -- and "I see him growing from week to week."

Sometimes all sorts of things come together at once. In one episode, Heather was injured, and Michael tried to get a look at her in the hospital -- while wearing a suit that could give off bright light. The light went off, convincing Heather she had seen an angel, and starting a discussion of whether she did, if people were going to believe that she did -- and how her life would be if no one believed her. At the end, Heather had to rely not on some easy proof of her belief, but on the belief itself.

And all that started with Matarazzo, best known for her movie work, most notably in 1995's Welcome to the Dollhouse. Caron said, "When we were doing the pilot, I just felt so proud that Heather did a TV series ... (that) I said, 'I'm going to develop an episode just for you.' "

At the same time, he said, "I wanted to do something about the power of faith." He thenremembered an odd ritual from his college days, which led him to the old story of King Arthur and the sword in the stone, all the while pondering as well the vulnerability of a high-school student like Heather, especially "if everybody says you're nuts." The angel came up during talks with writer-producer Marlane Meyer -- "The angel may have been from me, it may have been her," Caron said.

The end result was something that left Caron "very pleased" -- igh praise from someone who concedes "there are some shows where you just go 'eh' " and "I approach everything with this major sense of dread."

February 2, 2000