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John Doe
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2003

Format: TV
Genre:   MacGyver-esque adventure-ish
Released:   2002
Review Date:   March 22, 2003
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   3/10 (What Is This?)
This review is not about how Fox is all happy with this show, but quickly cancelled "Firefly," the show "Doe" was paired with on the Fox network's Friday Night Sci-Fi Death Zone.

OK, it is, briefly. "Firefly" was good, imaginative, fun. "John Doe" isn't. Yet "Doe" is still on, and "Firefly" isn't. This situation oddly parallels Sci Fi Channel's ditching of "Farscape" but embracing of the show it was paired with -- also on Friday nights -- the far blander "Stargate SG-1."

Both "Doe" and "Stargate" are guilty of the same thing: They have some interesting ingredients, but are sorely lacking in imagination or style.

"Stargate" has Richard Dean Anderson, who came to fame as "MacGyver." That show was about an adventurer who concocted weapons and gadgets out of everyday items, because he was smart and inventive. The character of John Doe does the exact same thing.

John Doe is amnesiac about his true identity, but he knows everything else. The sci-fi element is that maybe he's a secret lab experiment; maybe he's an alien; the show throws clues around. I don't think the show's writers know the answer themselves. But they don't have to, because if he ever finds out, the show's over.

That sounds interesting. We know the ultimate solution to lots of other Endless Quest shows -- Clark Kent is going to be Superman. The Fugitive didn't really do it. "Frasier" is just a beer-fueled hallucination by boozehound Frasier, who's really face down in the alley outside Cheers.

So there's a good premise here. But the execution is just as generic as the show's title. Every week there's a case that requires his knowledge, some weeks there's almost an answer to his dilemma, but it's always dull.

J.D. has claustrophobia. When he's nervous, he rattles off facts Rain Man-like. This dude's got a lot of hangups, enough to keep him stewing in neurosis for YEARS, or so hopes Fox. He also seems compelled to tell every stranger he meets about his memory problem.

To get a really good take on an amnesiac hero, you have to go back to Tom Hanks' "Saturday Night Live" sketch "Mr. Short-Term Memory."

I'd like the show better if Doe forgot everything that happens to him each week, and has to start over the next week, preferably naked and in the fetal position like he was in the first episode. The commercials could be amended to say "WHO is John Doe -- and WHERE are his pants THIS week?"

What was the pitch for this show? "It's like Memento, but it doesn't go backwards." It's like "MacGyver," except he doesn't know why he knows how to do stuff. It's like "X-Files," because there may be a government conspiracy. Or there may not. And that's the whole show. The show is a bad combo platter of these and other things that you've seen before. See? It's clever, because they knock off LOTS of things, instead of just one.

Here's what the non-"John" viewer is missing.

On a recent episode, he displayed every neurosis and every ability. This gets tiresome week after week. (Trapped in the elevator -- AGAIN!) He was on a plane, and whenever any hero boards a plane on any show, he's going to have to fly it. In John's case, this happened about 30 minutes into the show, and wasn't even the climactic scene.

He had too much other MacGyver-esque detective work to do. Among them: spraying Windex on every passenger's hands, then looking at every set of hands on a jumbo jet in the flourescent glow of a GameBoy or PDA or something, to see if they had smudges on their hands and were thus killers.

After saving the plane from crashing, he discovers the killer's next target: the hot female stranger whom he's revealed his problems to. He runs down the aisle of the plane, screaming at the top of his lungs: "RACHEL!!! HE'S COMING AFTER YOOOOOOUUU!!!" He obviously forgot how to whisper.

Because of this, a horde of passengers jumped him and locked him in the bathroom. Because he was talking loud and running? Never mind that up till then, they all willfully submitted to him spraying them with Windex, and then he saved them from a fiery plane crash. "Hey, the guy who saved us all is talking loud! Let's beat his ass!"

"John Doe" has concept, but no execution. Which means it'll probably be on the air for 7 years. Unfortunately, this show is on Fridays, against "Stargate SG-1" on Sci Fi. One is dull, the other is drab. How will the non-discrminating viewer choose? The inoffensive battle of semi-entertainment has begun!
RevolutionSF news editor Joe Crowe knows exactly who he is. But that don't mean he's happy about it, buster.

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