The first sitcom about adolescent paranoia and depression Eerie, Indiana is certainly novel way to end the weekend; up against 60 Minutes and Life Goes On, this new series is like Life Stands Still for 30 Minutes. Eerie's premise is simple and alluring: Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) is a smart, skeptical teenager whose family has recently moved from New Jersey to Eerie, Ind. Bored silly by Midwestern small-town life, Marshall is soon exhilarated and shocked to discover that Eerie is, as he says each week, ''the center of weirdness for the entire universe''.
How weird? Well, Eerie is a place where crows fly around carrying human eyeballs in their beaks, where the rotund fellow in the bathrobe stooping to pick up morning paper proves to be Elvis Presley. And that's just in the show's opening credits. The series' recent debut is already a near legend for its introduction of Foreverware human-size, Tupperware-like containers that hold warm bodies in suspended animation for years; a woman down the street from Marshall was selling the stuff door-to-door.
In a subsequent episode, a neighborhood youth whom Marshall had just met discovered that the canines were planning a violent revolt against their masters (The hounds chant, ''Bite the hand that feeds us!'' and ''Today, Eerie tomorrow Indianapolis'') Eerie Indiana has been invented by producers Karl Schaefer (TV 101) and Jose Rivera seemingly to give a wholly different meaning to the phrase ''new kid in strange town.''
Katz used to play a mostly silent, wide-eye son to Larry Hagman's J.R. on Dallas (talk about your eerie experiences). With his lank brown hair falling over his big, sensitive eyes, Katz is an ideal Eerie Everyboy. His face is hand-some yet blank; each week. Katz's Marshall tells us different story about some odd person or event in Eerie, and when he looks into the camera to emphasize his sincerity and wonderment, you're not sure if you're supposed to think this crazy stuff really happened to this kid, or if he’s just making it up as goes along.
At its best, Eerie combines two pop-culture phenomena: the substantial youth market for supernatural fiction (everything from Stephen King novels to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies) plus the let's-take these-young-people-seriously attitude that made Beverly Hills, 90210 and Doogie Howser; M.D. touchstones for teen TV audience. Eerie proceeds on the assumption that Marshall's adventures are so imaginative, so elaborately worked out, that they give adolescent daydreaming a good name, and thus afford much comfort to teenage goof-offs all over America.
So far, however, the show's concepts have been funnier than its scripts. There are no conventional punch lines in thus laugh track-less sitcom, and most of the jokes rate little more than a smile. You watch Eerie for the small-screen spectacle of it all to see the way, in the show's first few weeks, feature-film directors like Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Tim Hunter (River's Edge) oversaw episodes that summoned up an atmosphere of absurdist suburban dread. In a bit of overstatement more hilarious than anything in their show, Schaefer and Rivera have said that what they're doing is the TV equivalent of the so-called ''magic realism'' of Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez (One hundred Years of Solitude). Sure guys. If Eerie is magic realism, I'm Edmund Wilson. Right now, Eerie is more interesting than entertaining.
And like a lot of interesting comedy, Eerie is, when you stop and think about it for a minute, rooted in some sobering notions. For example, if you believe the tenets of pop psychology and hundred Geraldo/Oprah/Phil talk shows, a boy like Marshall would be, in real life, a perfect candidate for teen suicide. He's a morose loner with an overactive fantasy life, alienated from his family and most of his peers, whit very little parental supervision. ''I'm worried about Marshall,'' said his mom in the second episode, but neither she nor her husband ever does anything about this poor mope of a kid.
Eerie, Indiana certainly gets one thinking, doesn't it? I also wonder if anyone will ever mention how eerie it is that Marshall's cute mother (Mary Margaret Humes) and cute sister (Julie Condra) look to be the same age, and whether Marshall's Oedipal complex is extra-eerie as result. One of the ways this series seems bound to disappoint us is inevitable failure to explore its ideal topic: a male teen's surreal fears and fantasies about sex. Can't do that sort of thing before 8 on Sunday nights, can you? Too bad; it could have been a riot. B