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TV: Reviewing the New Season : This Series Has a Brain : ‘Now and Again,’ with its techno-built superhero, has wit that tonight’s other premieres can’t begin to match.

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

The Egg Man cometh.

In Tokyo, an elderly Asian gent with a pleasant face and bagful of groceries exits a subway train, leaving behind some eggs that ultimately break and emit a deadly gas that causes the passengers to massively hemorrhage.

Seemingly unrelated is the plight of insurance executive Michael Wiseman (John Goodman, in a cameo), who is having a bad day in New York. First, he’s passed over for promotion, losing out to a 27-year-old snot with no scruples.

Still worse, he topples in front of a subway train and dies. Well, sort of.

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Cut to an austere government facility where Wiseman, whom we have just seen get clobbered on the tracks, has undergone some kind of secret techno-recycling. His brain is intact. Instead of flabby, middle-aged Goodman, however, he is now sleek, young Eric Close, whose attributes include not only superhuman strength but a superhuman You Know What.

Checking himself below the belt, the new-and-improved Wiseman is euphoric. “Damn right!” crows Dennis Haysbert as the government’s Dr. Theodore Morris, sounding like flag-touting boxing promoter Don King. “Made in America, baby! Made in America!”

That’s the prologue for “Now and Again,” an endearing new CBS hour from Glenn Gordon Caron that promises to be one of TV’s shouldn’t-miss series. He did it on ABC with “Moonlighting,” whose early seasons in the mid-'80s gave prime time some of its most original, inventive, entertaining TV ever.

“Now and Again” is one of three new series arriving tonight. Much lower on the food chain are NBC’s ultimately tedious young-couples saga “Cold Feet” and the curiously uncurious ABC comedy “Odd Man Out.”

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Your government creating secret technology that it uses to pluck a citizen’s pulsating brain from his dead body to enable him to exist anew as someone younger and more vibrant? Sounds like a good use of tax dollars.

And an offer that Wiseman wouldn’t think of refusing, given the grim alternative, and that his age was a major reason that he was rejected for promotion. Except that there are two catches:

One: Wiseman cannot contact his loving wife, Lisa (Margaret Colin), and teenage daughter, Heather (Heather Matarazzo), who buried his body and have no idea that his brain is functioning somewhere inside a newer, better form.

Two: Wiseman II must train vigorously in isolation and use his superhero brawn on secret missions that the government plans for him. Don’t be surprised if one of them involves the Egg Man, seen later debarking with more eggs at bustling Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Although premieres can be misleading, “Now and Again” tonight displays too many hairpin curves and too much wit and sophistication to be mentioned with “The Six Million Dollar Man,” ABC’s one-note hit series in the ‘70s about a bionically rebuilt astronaut.

Besides offering the prospect of great fun, the first episode has a thoughtful tone that brings a certain gravity to its characters. Realizing that his new persona is not all that he thought it would be, Wiseman is overwhelmed by a desire to be reunited with his family. And his attempts to circumvent this restriction will be intriguing in light of his wife being stiffed by his own insurance company, which labels his death a suicide to avoid paying off a substantial policy on his life.

The cast is good, too, with Close looking fit for combat with exotic villains in New York (Caron calls him a “five-boroughs superhero”), Colin at once tender and playful as the grieving wife and Haysbert mingling bemusement with subtle menace as the mysterious Dr. Morris.

All of them bow out tonight with viewers pleasantly in the lurch, and the Egg Man, whoever he may be, still on the loose.

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*

“Cold Feet” succeeds the canceled “Homicide: Life on the Street” at 10 p.m., dumbing down the time slot by about 50 IQ points.

Based on a British series, it traces the intersecting relationships of three thirtyish Seattle couples, starting with singles Adam (David Sutcliffe) and Shelley (Jean Louisa Kelly), who meet literally by accident. As she’s crossing the street, he hits her with his battered, taped-up antique car, leading to a relationship. Right.

As the romance evolves, Adam keeps his married friends, Pete (William Keane) and Jenny (Dina Pybey), in the loop, as Shelley does with her own married friends, David (Anthony Starke) and Karen (Alicia Coppola).

Meanwhile, Pete is being worn down by Jenny’s pregnancy-induced “overwhelming tidal waves of desire,” and career-minded David and Karen have a crisis when he repeatedly rejects her pleas for a nanny to help with their baby so she can get out occasionally.

“Cold Feet” begins likably, with a pace that’s swift and dialogue amusing enough to maintain your interest. As the centerpiece couple here, however, Adam and Shelley simply don’t work, and the deeper their romance the more labored they and the series become.

Although she’s easily the smartest, most appealing character here, he’s a low-end yutz with no visible prospects, yet another of TV’s adult man-children whom you could envision going to bed with his skateboard. When they first meet and she tells him her name is Shelley “like the poet,” he nods and adds to himself, “whoever that is.”

Any credibility this couple have vanishes when he woos her back after a split by standing outside her window and serenading her in the buff with a rose protruding from his butt.

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That old trick again?

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Adam is about on a par with Andrew (Erik von Detten), the protagonist of “Odd Man Out.” Both resist lengthy romantic tangles, both exhibit a 15-year-old’s maturity level.

The difference? Andrew is 15.

Anyone tuning in this comedy expecting to see Carol Reed’s great 1947 film, “Odd Man Out,” starring James Mason as a doomed Irish rebel leader, may be somewhat disappointed. Andrew is the only male in a South Beach, Fla., household of five females--his mother (Markie Post), aunt (Jessica Capshaw) and three sisters (Natalia Cigliuti, Vicki Davis and Marina Malota)--that he describes as “an estrogen cult.”

The cult expands tonight when Andrew resists the affections of his science lab partner because he has the hots for another girl, leading to an awkward meeting that puts him on the spot. After he insists he wants no long-term relationships, one of his sisters replies: “You just want to spread your seed and move on.”

Although Von Detten and Post are especially nice together as son and mother, the material they’re given tonight is hardly world-class. The edgy humor promised viewers is not immediately apparent. Nor, in fact, is much humor at all.

* “Now and Again” airs tonight at 9 on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children.)

* “Odd Man Out” airs tonight at 9:30 on ABC. The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).

* “Cold Feet” airs tonight at 10 on NBC. The network has rated it TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).


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