San Francisco Chronicle
by John Carman

CBS' `Now and Again' Mixes Brains and Bods

It can't be said often enough: Most successful TV is wish fulfillment.

On ``Three's Company,'' an ordinary guy shares a bungalow with two babes -- one blond, the other brunette. On ``The Cosby Show,'' a prosperous black family is smoothly assimilated into the upper middle class. On ``Friends,'' six young urban dwellers find companionship and joy no farther away than across the hall.

On ``The Simpsons'' . . . well, OK, not all successful TV.

CBS goes for a wish-fulfillment home run tonight, with the series premiere of ``Now and Again'' (9 p.m. on Channel 5).

You might have heard rumors that CBS viewers tend to be a tad older, maybe a year or 50, than typical viewers at the
other networks.

Keep that in mind because in ``Now and Again,'' an aging, overweight, beaten-down insurance exec (guest star John Goodman), passed over for promotion and deemed expendable because of his age, is jostled and falls fatally in front of an oncoming subway train.

Granted, not many fulfilled wishes so far. But his government has plans for the deceased Goodman. His brain is kept abuzz and transferred to the cyborg body of Eric Close -- slim, young, buffed, burnished.

There's a scene of Goodman waking in a hospital bed, stumbling to a mirror and confronting the taut face of Close. The music track kicks into a version of ``Close to You.'' Goodman, now Close, pulls open the front band of his pajama bottom and checks his ``package.''

The inspection proves highly satisfactory to him. His exact comment is, ``Holy crap!''

This, emphatically, is what is meant by wish fulfillment.

CBS has been hyping ``Now and Again'' as ``The Six-Million Dollar Man'' meets ``The X-Files.'' Sure, but only half-right. Its creator, Glenn Gordon Caron (``Moonlighting'') is gunning for something grander, and yet more intimate, than rehashed sci-fi.

``Now and Again'' is also about becoming something you weren't, and finally missing what you were.

In the case of Michael Wiseman (Goodman/Close), it's the obvious thing -- family. Especially is wife Lisa (exquisitely played by Margaret Colin).

Close's character is told by his mysterious government handler (Dennis Haysbert) that he mustn't try to establish contact with anyone from his previous life. Shades of ``Seconds,'' a novel and 1966 movie in which a middle-aged businessman is transformed into Rock Hudson.

But Colin suspects, deep down, that her husband is still alive and that he is determined to contact her. That's the real heart of the show, and it's got nearly nothing in common with ``The Six-Million Dollar Man.''

Matter of fact, that longing for dead or departed loved ones is likelier to strike a chord with older viewers, not the sort of kids who followed the stone cold Steve Austin on the 1970s ABC show.

Meanwhile, there is the thriller element. It seems Close's government-configured body will be put to use finding ``The Egg Man,'' an international terrorist fond of chemically induced mass killings.

Even if you watch no more of ``Now and Again,'' try to catch the first 10 minutes or so tonight. It's a suspenseful, beautifully edited sequence in which ``The Egg Man'' targets a Tokyo subway car. Superb.

September 24, 1999