Earth 2 has already beaten Star Trek to at least one punch: The new sci-fi series has a woman leading its extraterrestrial expedition to a new, alternate world. That woman, Devon Adair, is played by Debrah Farentino, a familiar face on TV from NYPD Blue and Equal Justice who feels she's just now achieved her first fully formed character. As Adair, she barks orders to her hardy band of explorers but also manages to be a loving mother to her physically impaired son, Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman).
''It's very unusual to have a female character on TV who is a mother and who wields power comfortably,'' says Farentino from the Santa Fe, N.M., set.
''This is really a Western set in the future,'' she says with a laugh. ''I'm leading a wagon train here, basically.'' But what she likes most is that the characters are ''lacking in gender bias. We have a female doctor (Jessica Steen) and a male character who's allowed to show his feelings (Clancy Brown).''
One might also say the show is lacking in species bias: Anyone can be a meanie, from a lovable-looking creature whose fingernails contain a coma-inducing chemical to a human villain (Tim Curry) with wild hair and a distinct lack of scruples.
Farentino, 35, resists the idea of 2 as a sci-fi show (''That's a limited definition of what we're doing'') but likes to compare the series with an earlier TV trip into the unknown. ''When I was a kid, I loved The Twilight Zone, but my mother loved it as well because there were some sophisticated themes for an adult to key into,'' she says. ''That's what we're aiming for with Earth 2.''
The science part of sci-fi is familiar to the actress (née Deborah Mullowney), who studied biology at San Jose State. After switching to acting at UCLA, she got her first break in the soap Capitol. In 1987 she costarred in Hooperman; then came Equal Justice and NYPD. Ex-wife of actor James Farentino, she's now the mother of Molly, 3, and married to NYPD executive producer Gregory Hoblit.
Farentino is philosophical about her stint on NYPD. ''I came in knowing I wasn't a big, important character I was 'the girlfriend.''' Specifically, the girlfriend of David Caruso's John Kelly. When Caruso took a fast exit from the series, Farentino's character left too. ''Acting with David was like playing with a great tennis pro. I learned a lot, but I was there to service a story line. And when that story arc was done, I was gone.'' Really gone to another planet, as it turns out.