January Blowout 

Black Scorpion, Jules Verne, Nikita and more ring in 2001.

Think the only TV planning you have to consider this month involves the Super Bowl and, blech, Survivor? As if.

The Sci-Fi Channel, uneven as a cheese wedge when it comes to original programming, is sandwiching its returning Muppets-in-space hit Farscape between two brand-new slices of cheddar for the latest round of Friday Prime kicking off this first week of 2001. Well, almost new: Astute cruisers of the bottom shelves at the rental shop will recognize the title Black Scorpion from a pair of mid-’90s straight-to-video action flicks starring Joan Severance as Darcy Walker, straight-laced cop by day, leathered-up crime-fighting superheroine by night. Kind of like the unlamented NightMan, but with bigger, uh, weapons.

Sci-Fi’s Black Scorpion, with former Miss Kansas Michelle Lintel filling out the titular crime-fighting leather teddy, has been collecting dust itself since 1998. B-movie maven Roger Corman, the only guy who could possibly see any merit in this, resurrected and sold it off to the Sci-Fi Channel as a series. BS co-stars 10 (count ’em, 20) Playboy and Penthouse models as various half-dressed supervillainesses and, Shatner help us, Adam “Batman” West himself as Scorpy’s archenemy, Breathtaker. Black Scorpion aims for the comic-book future-camp of RoboCop (the movie and the underrated TV series), but ends up more like a NightBabe for the Spice Channel—with the good stuff edited out, in case you thought that was an endorsement.

Depending upon your tolerance for wildly fluctuating French accents and pretentious movie-screen letterboxing, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, Friday Prime’s second new entry, fares much better. Of course, it helps if you’re into that subset of sci-fi geekdom known as “Steampunk,” where tech-obsessive Cyberpunk attitude meets 1800s culture—in other words, they build bitchin’ gear like time machines and spaceships mechanically instead of electronically. Think 1999’s gadget-heavy Wild Wild West movie remake, if you can do so without getting a metallic migraine.

Jules Verne (Chris Demetral of HBO’s Dream On) had his visionary doodles swiped by the ambiguously named League of Darkness. Now, he and his swashbuckling pals must stop them before they use his inventions to—you know it’s coming, so just lie back and enjoy it—take over the world. If the stylish look and detailed stories of Secret Adventures don’t reel ’em in, guest-shots by Steampunk icons like David Warner (Time After Time, Time Bandits) and John Rhys-Davies (Sliders, Raiders of the Lost Ark) probably will. The fact that I recognize Steampunk icons does not make me a geek, BTW—I mean, by the way.

Since Friday Prime has done so well for Sci-Fi, the net’s launching Monday Prime on Jan. 8 with the better-than-expected, from-cable series First Wave (with Traci Lords—oops, now Traci Elizabeth Lords—joining the cast) and The Invisible Man (cool show and available for free in syndication, Sundays on KJZZ). Those have been paired with the better-than-expected, from-Canadian/German-soft-porn cult hit Lexx, all transported from Friday. This makes the Sci-Fi Channel the cable primetime leader in “original scripted programming.” Lexx is scripted?

USA, Sci-Fi’s parent company, is also getting back into the original series game this weekend (Jan. 7) with a rock-solid Sunday lineup featuring excellent returnees Cover Me: Based on the True Life of an FBI Family (shot and plotted in Salt Lake City) and The Huntress.

Also back, thanks to the rabid hounding of thousands of Internet fans, is USA mainstay La Femme Nikita. In its fifth and allegedly final season of eight episodes, “all questions will be answered.” Yeah, sure. Don’t go getting the idea that this bizarrely enthralling brain-screw spy melodrama is suddenly going to start making sense or anything. Most of the cast has been relegated to “special guest star” status. Nikita (Peta Wilson) is working for Section on “one last mission” before she’s finally freed for the 168th time, and then she gives herself a sporty new haircut for no apparent reason.

This is why La Femme Nikita does so well in perpetual reruns: You can tune in any episode at any time and still not be any more or less confused as hell. Kind of like this column, minus the pleasant distraction of Peta Wilson.

Not all of this week’s debuts fall in the cable sci-fi realm, however. ABC’s flogging the back-stabbing-reality-game nag with The Mole (Tuesday, Jan. 9, 8 p.m.), and NBC’s frantically plugging sitcom holes with Three Sisters (same night, 8:30 p.m.). Also, Fox is hoping to strike dysfunctional family sitcom gold, á la past winners Malcolm in the Middle and Titus, with Grounded for Life (Wednesday, Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m.—more on this one in next week’s Tube Town).

Fox also has a steaming pile of crap on deck called Temptation Island (same night, 8 p.m.), but I’m just going to pretend it’s not there. Won’t you join me?

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