TV Review: 'Fear Itself'

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Some credit is due NBC for offering up a scripted series during the summer that's not a burned-off leftover from the previous season. So: Good on you, NBC.

That said, the horror/suspense anthology "Fear Itself," which is well-produced and occasionally offers some nice little chills, probably doesn't herald a game-changing foray into year-round programming. It might be a decent diversion at times over the summer, but appointment viewing it is not.

In fact, it's not really designed to be. "Fear Itself" -- created by Mick Garris, who was also the guiding hand behind Showtime's similar "Masters of Horror" -- will present self-contained tales, with different actors and behind-the-scenes talent, each week. And as with any such show, the results are something of a mixed bag.

The first two episodes, "The Sacrifice" and "Spooked," are variations on an abandoned-house theme, long on atmosphere but not especially spooky. The first, which serves as the series premiere at 10 p.m. ET Thursday (June 5), follows a group of on-the-run criminals (including "The Nine's" Jeffrey Pierce and Jesse Plemons of "Friday Night Lights") who hole up in an abandoned fort after their truck breaks down on a snowy back road.

Once there they encounter a pair of beautiful but rather skittish and sheltered sisters (Rachel Miner and Mircea Monroe), along with something far less pleasant. There are lots of point-of-view camera shots, an admittedly palpable air of dread and some inexplicable acts by the sisters, but it doesn't add up to a whole lot of scary.

Things that go bump in the night are also at the center of "Spooked," in which a broken-down private eye's (Eric Roberts) past literally comes back to haunt him. The ghosts haunting him end up being rather prosaic, but effective performances from Roberts and "Lost's" Cynthia Watros, along with some creepy visuals by director Brad Anderson ("The Machinist") and Co., carry the episode farther than it maybe should go.

The best of the first three episodes is "Family Man," which airs June 19. Written by Daniel Knauf ("Supernatural," "Carnivale"), the episode is a variation on the switching-body trope: In this case, a church-going father of two (Colin Ferguson, "Eureka") finds his consciousness transported into the body of a serial killer (Clifton Collins Jr., "Thief"), and vice versa. Strong performances from both actors, and some deft touches from Knauf in showing how neither man is very comfortable in his new skin, make for an engrossing hour of TV -- and the last twist is pretty good too.

Future episodes will feature directors like Darren Bousman ("Saw" II-IV), John Dahl ("You Kill Me") and Stuart Gordon ("Re-Animator"), all guys who know a thing or two about building suspense. And there's something to be said for summer TV that allows you to drop in and out as you please. It remains to be seen, though, whether the "ins" will outweigh the "outs" by summer's end.

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