ABC's Monday night mysticism

Times Staff Writer

In "Miracles," Paul Callan and his mysterious band of truth seekers are trying to unlock the secrets of a looming cataclysm before it's too late.

In "Veritas: The Quest," Nikko Zond and his father's team of daring researchers are risking their lives in pursuit of the ancient secrets of civilization.

And you thought your job was difficult.

The shows premiere tonight on ABC -- whose quest, of course, is for an audience on Monday night now that football season is over. Serving as a bridge between the two mystical adventure upstarts at 9 p.m. is "The Practice," moving over from the Sunday spot it had occupied since 1998.

The 10 p.m. show, "Miracles," whose pilot generates surprising chills, looks like the more intriguing new entry, although its disturbing themes could make it a tougher sell with the public.

In an inspired casting choice, Skeet Ulrich ("As Good as It Gets," "Scream") plays the brooding Callan, an investigator of so-called modern miracles whose faith is tested at every turn, dwindling a little with each mundane explanation he uncovers.

In the premiere, written by series co-creator Richard Hatem and directed by Matt Reeves, a bloody brush with death alters Paul's path. After a traffic collision, Paul's life is saved by young Tommy Ferguson (Jacob Smith), a boy with genuine healing power.

When church leaders react to Paul's report with their usual skepticism, he quits his post and joins forces with Alva Keel (Angus Macfadyen), a former Harvard professor who investigates the paranormal with the help of ex-cop Evelyn Santos (Marisa Ramirez). Both men believe the other possesses the key to a bigger mystery -- the growing number of "strange occurrences" worldwide that may point to a frightening and deadly "large event" on the horizon.

"Miracles" is the type of challenging show that might need a near-miracle to succeed in the ratings, but fortunately, stranger things have happened.

"Veritas: The Quest," at 8 p.m., shapes up as a different sort of challenge: This dose of silliness, which could have sprung from a generic video game, may test the patience and credulity of even the teen crowd that seems to be its target.

There is one impeccable quip early in the pilot, when teenage Nikko (Ryan Merriman) dryly asks whether his ultra-secretive father is Batman. His dad is no Caped Crusader, of course, but a high-tech version of Indiana Jones who, by the end of the episode, grudgingly lets his son into the dangerous fold.

Series creators Patrick Massett and John Zinman wrote the premiere, which was directed by Bryan Spicer.

As we meet the rebellious Nikko, he is still mourning the unexplained death of his renowned archeologist mother and is a virtual stranger to his workaholic father, Solomon (Alex Carter). After Nikko gets booted from the latest in a series of boarding schools, he learns that his dad's career as a university professor is a cover: In truth, Solomon leads the Veritas Foundation, a bizarre underground historical society.

Against Solomon's better judgment, Nikko enters the classified world of Veritas, unofficially at least, and begins a journey that just might end up bringing father and son closer together as they race to unearth the mysteries of the universe while evading an evil -- but seemingly incompetent -- brotherhood of smarmy men in gray suits. Each time the heroes get away from a close scrape, you half expect the bad guys to snap their fingers in disgust.

The Veritas team also includes tough guy Vincent Siminou (Arnold Vosloo), high-strung archeologist Calvin Banks (Eric Balfour) and the requisite computer whiz Maggie (Cynthia Martells). Joining the ride is Juliet Droil (Cobie Smulders), Solomon's sultry former student, whom he has hired to tutor his son.

Ironically, what "Veritas" lacks is a ring of truth.


New ABC shows

"Veritas: The Quest" premieres tonight at 8 and "Miracles" at 10, both on ABC. The network has rated "Veritas" TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children) and "Miracles" TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under the age of 14).

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