Thursday, September 4, 2014

Give Me A (DVD) Sign: Now and Again

It only took 14 years but the quirky action/sci-fi/romance drama series Now and Again just hit DVD courtesy of CBS.  I suppose it was worth the wait as the set is loaded with hours of special features including a 4 part making of/look back called Genesis.

Let's back up, in 1999 I was a senior in high school hanging with my friends, lifting weights, reading comics and talking shit.  Honestly, not much has changed.  But, that was about the last time I actively watched a television show that wasn't a 30 minute sitcom called The Simpsons or Home Improvement.  In 1998, CBS launched a television show based on one of my favorite flicks, the 1960 action western character piece, The Magnificent Seven.  Even better was that one of my favorite actors, Michael Biehn, was playing the lead.  Joined by familiar faces like Ron Perlman (Alien: Resurrection) and Dale Midkiff (Time Trax!), newcomers (to me) Eric Close, Rick Worthy, Andrew Kavovit and Anthony Starke, the show was a handsomely produced mix of action, drama, bromance and western derring-do that I recorded every week on the ol' VCR.  I believe it was on Friday or Saturday nights so sitting in a movie theater one evening I literally sat up in shock as I realized I hadn't set the VCR to record.  Although The Magnificent Seven's pilot premiered in the week's Top 10 with 10 million viewers, the show quickly lost viewers and ended up scoring middle of the road ratings and a few Emmy nominations.  On the bubble, fans campaigned CBS to renew the show and a 2nd season of 13 episodes was produced.  The show failed to gain any momentum and soon co-star Eric Close was onto a new show, Now and Again, which meant The Magnificent Seven would not be riding into season 3. 

Also relegated to the wasteland of Friday nights, Now and Again is the story of insurance salesman Michael Wiseman (John Goodman), a loving dad and good guy who gets drunk one night after testifying against his company and accidentally pushed in front of a subway car.  He awakens to find the smiling yet mysterious Dr. Theodore Morris (Dennis Haysbert) at his bedside and soon realizes he's no longer who he was before.  Michael's brain has been transplanted into the body of a perfectly engineered 26 year old (Eric Close) and the show follows his struggle of being alive yet dead along with the trials and tribulations of his wife/widow Lisa (Margaret Colin), teenage daughter Heather (Heather Matarazzo), best friend Roger (Gerrit Graham) and his slick former boss who won't pay out life insurance Craig (Chad Lowe).  While Michael deals with his new body, working for a shadowy government agency and trying to be involved in his former family's life, he's also in training and fighting baddies like chemical weapons terrorist The Eggman, turncoat operatives, runaway prototypes and killer bees.  Funny, sweet, exciting and a bit odd, the show was a strange hybrid of genres that somehow combined the elements of a love story, a bionic man, his friend/prisoner relationship with his maker, action and showing off super strength in order to be able to afford peanut butter cups. 

Like The Magnificent Seven, Now and Again gained a following of devoted fans and when it wasn't picked up for season 2 following a cliffhanger finale, said fans sent empty egg cartons to CBS and took out an ad in trade publications.  While The Magnificent Seven would hit DVD in 2005, the signs of Now and Again were relegated to repeats on Sci-Fi and maybe YouTube.  Now, I can finally retire my worn out VHS tapes as the complete series on DVD showed up on my door (AFTER the long weekend, thanks Amazon...).  Incidentally, one of my Now and Again tapes was recorded over another great, one season, sci-fi/action show that aired on CBS, The Flash!

Digging right into the special features, the main featurettes cover the origins, production, reception and legacy of the show titled Genesis, New Life, Remembrances and Timelessness.  Directed and edited by Dammaged Goods familiar Roger Lay, Jr. (of He-Man documentary Toy Masters fame), all of the major participants are included except John Goodman.  Additional content includes an on the set vignette as well as a spot focusing on the writing of the show.  Creator Glenn Gordon Caron had discovered Bruce Willis and shepherded hit show Moonlighting before moving into feature films.  CBS head Glenn Moonves asked Caron to write a pilot and if he didn't produce it, CBS would pay him an exorbitant sum of cash.  Inspired by 1958's Damn Yankees where an obsessed baseball fan makes a deal with the devil so his team will do well, Caron moved the Faust-ian tones to modern times in New York City.  A writer who shunned the traditional writers room of TV, Caron recruited a small but strong staff from various backgrounds including a scribe from Star Trek and one from Esquire magazine.  A dialog heavy show, rewriting was common place with actors behind handed a fresh chunk of 5 pages moments before shooting.  Their approach was to create a series that couldn't be identified or labeled while turning clichés on their head. 

Eric Close, a good looking actor who reminds me of Steve McQueen, had been a part of several failed shows before landing Now and Again, beating out a rumored 3,000 applicants.  To play the perfect bionic man, Close embarked on a crash diet of tuna and water then during shooting would go home and train after 16 hour days while subsisting on half a piece of toast with tuna in order to stay lean and yoked.  Dennis Haysbert (NAVY SEALS! So many Michael Biehn connections) was not Caron's first choice but was at the top of CBS' list and plays the government agent/creator with strength, dignity, intelligence and humor.  Shooting in New York City was a novel idea at the time but extremely difficult and expensive as there wasn't the infrastructure or tax benefits of today.  Moving locations proved time consuming and difficult so the production would take over sections of town whenever possible, one being Wall Street, an area bustling by day but empty at night, for street chases and action scenes.

The show's eclectic sensibility was hard for CBS to pinpoint and thus couldn't categorize the show equaling little effort into promoting it.  Being on Friday nights after Candid Camera didn't help but Now and Again premiered in September of 1999 to solid critical notices and reached 11 million viewers at it's peak.  3 Saturn Awards, a TV Guide cover and an Emmy nomination followed.  The show finished 76th out of 196 programs for the year behind CBS' own Diagnosis Murder, Jag, Nash Bridges and Walker, Texas Ranger.  Spirits were high for a renewal shortly after the wrap party,  word came down that the Now and Again would not be returning.  The news was a shock to all involved who really thought they were coming back, especially after the cliffhanger season finale.  Future plans and storylines are not discussed however for better or worse.  These days, I'm a sure a show with this kind of critical support, fandom and overall goodwill could get picked up by another network or an online outlet but those weren't the times we were living in back in 1999...


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