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‘Meego,’ ‘Visitor’ Rework Some Familiar Themes

Sometimes new seasons aren’t very new. As in tonight’s debuts of two series that are as original as flying saucers.

One of them, the measly “Meego,” is a low-flying, ground-skimming saucer and CBS homage to ABC’s old “Mork & Mindy.” In other words, a rip-off. The other is Fox’s much more watchable “The Visitor,” which appears to be yet another exhumation of “The Fugitive.”

Everyone who saw “Jerry Maguire” knows that 6-year-old Jonathan Lipnicki--big glasses, spiky blond hair--is the cutest, most adorable kid on the planet. On “Meego,” he is the planet. But a small one, for cuddliness stretches only so far--even a double dose of it, when little Jonathan is paired with a dog.

Otherwise, this comedy is a thudding debacle, with Bronson Pinchot several sizes too small to fill the shoes of Robin Williams as Mork, playing a genial alien who becomes a nanny for a surgeon (Ed Begley Jr.) and his kids, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), Trip (Erik Von Detten in the first episode, Will Estes thereafter) and Alex (Lipnicki) after crash-landing his spaceship near their suburban house. Yes, you’re right, “Meego” copies NBC’s old “Alf,” too.

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Only the kids know that Meego is actually from otherworldly Marmazon 4.0 and is 9,000 years old. Their idiot father hasn’t a clue. A trusting soul, he employs Meego as a nanny without even interviewing him, and then entrusts his kids to him overnight because “the agency screens these people.”

The question is what CBS executives were thinking when they screened this show. Perhaps in Pinchot they saw Williams (uh oh) and in Lipnicki the Olsen twins of ABC’s “Full House,” a drippy but popular sitcom that had kid appeal.

If “Meego” is, indeed, tailored to the younger set watching at 8:30 p.m. after “Family Matters,” some of its dialogue is a strange way to show it. As in teenager Trip saying that a girl he’s gazing at through his powerful telescope has a “major set of headlights.”

Meanwhile, Meego can do magical things, such as clean house with a levitating vacuum sweeper and dispense sage knowledge to the headstrong Trip that makes him a hit with his basketball coach.

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What he can’t do is make “Meego” funny.

*

It turns out that two visitors are better than one.

“The Visitor” is one of those Fox series all inky and enigmatic, with lots of under-lighting and nighttime sequences that make it a suitable lead-in and companion to the holdover “Millennium.”

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It was created by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, who were behind the 1996 movie “Independence Day” and actually admit it.

The mysterious protagonist in “The Visitor” is played by John Corbett, whose work as the gentle radio philosopher in the former CBS series “Northern Exposure” many will recall affectionately. This time he is Navy pilot Adam MacArthur, thought killed when his plane apparently went down over the Bermuda Triangle in 1947. Except that he resurfaces in rural Utah 50 years later, bearded and Jesus-like, having not aged, with a bag of tricks that makes Meego look like a third-rate Mandrake, and saying cool things like, “Your mind is an amazing adventure just waiting to happen.”

What’s more, he can heal his own wounds with plants and turn a howling, foaming police dog into a wimpering wimp merely by looking into its eyes because, as he says, “All life is connected.”

These are neat things to know, and you’d think everyone would be happy for Adam. But noooooo! For reasons that are kept fuzzy, on his trail are a couple of competing government agencies--most vividly personified by a sneering, snarling Army colonel (Steve Railsback)--which appear determined to nab him as he roams from locale to locale, ennobling everyone he meets while searching for assistance in his great mission.

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Which is?

Here’s how he explains it in the premiere to a woman who lives alone with her teenage son in the boonies but decides to hide this bloodied stranger from the sheriff after accidentally hitting him in the road with her truck:

“Things are happening. Things that could affect the course of history. And I have to interfere before it’s too late. And if I’m discovered, I won’t be able to do anything about it.”

Works for her.

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And somehow, “The Visitor” promises to work as nice, escapist drama, because of Corbett’s especially appealing presence, because “The Fugitive” format is so bankable and because--go figure--it seems like an amazing adventure just waiting to happen.

* “The Visitor” premieres at 8 tonight on Fox (Channel 11). The network has rated it TV-PG (may be inappropriate for young children).

* “Meego” premieres at 8:30 tonight on CBS (Channel 2). The network has rated it TV-G (appropriate for all ages).


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