Nano-originality: 'Jake 2.0' downloads borrowed ideas

Television's vogue for government-agency settings has left few departments unscathed, from the FBI of "Without a Trace" to the CIA of "Alias" to the Department of Homeland Security, starring this fall in ABC's "Threat Matrix."

Perhaps someday, Johnny-come-lately producers will be forced to utilize leftovers like the U.S. Postal Service or Office of Management and Budget. ("Something here doesn't add up, sir.")

Until then, potential still lurks in such groups as the National Security Agency, that backdrop of tonight's action series "Jake 2.0" (KSTW).

"Jake 2.0" replaces "Twilight Zone" at 9 p.m. as UPN's latest effort to find a companion to "Enterprise." This may strike some as akin to sending a pilot boat to the Titanic.

But science-fiction fans are worth courting. So "Enterprise" has been overhauled while "Jake 2.0" will demonstrate that geeks can have fun even when they're not mooning over Web sites that tell you how to make a starship from a floppy disk.

The new show's hero, Jake Foley, is conceived as a dream geek. Played by Christopher Gorham ("Popular," "Felicity," "Odyssey 5"), he's cute, coiffed and cut — just your average NSA computer technician.

Despite dark good looks and dazzling keyboard skills, however, Jake lacks social confidence. A lot of his time is spent dreaming about becoming an NSA spy.

And sure enough, 10 minutes into tonight's plot, a laboratory accident gives Jake powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men. He becomes ... Peter Parker? The Hulk? Keanu Reeves?

The answer is a bit of all three. Or make that nano-bit, since the cause of Jake's transformation turns out to be implanted nano-technology, an ailment for which there is no cure except cancellation.

Similarly, "Jake 2.0" is riddled with nano-bits of virtually every popular sci-fi hit of the past five years, led by (of course) "The Matrix" and (especially) "Spider-Man."

Unlike Jake, these implants do not make the show stronger or even likely to succeed. The very people UPN wishes to have watch "Jake 2.0" are the ones most likely to recognize and loathe its pale mimicry.

Worse, "Jake 2.0" fails to carry itself between ripoffs. The dialogue is banal: "I want my life back," "There are no heroes anymore," "I'm here for you." The action scenes are poorly directed and the transitions muddled. Jerry Bruckheimer it ain't.

Gorham does an OK job at conveying vulnerability and charm, but he hasn't any superhero sizzle. As his love interest, Sarah, actress Marina Black, seems way too vanilla for a thriller.

Toward the end of this evening's episode, Jake asks what's going to happen with his body. "Honestly," he's told, "we just don't know."

Even allowing for the occasional dubious venture that works its way into real-life government — for instance, stock in terrorism futures — it's hard to believe NSA scientists wouldn't have some idea about the consequences of implanted nanites.

But they do go ahead and give him his very own Special Ops team, which I guess has replaced skateboarding and indie filmmaking as every young man's dream.

The failure of "Jake 2.0" to deliver grist is a failure to understand its core audience. The writers may not know what the future holds, but mine is likely to be with time-slot rivals "Angel," "The West Wing" or "The Bernie Mac Show." GRADE: D

• As for "Enterprise," returning at 8 p.m., it's hard to see how the producers' promise of more battles, the sexing up of T'Pol and an apocalyptic showdown inspired by two top-grossing "Star Trek" movies will adhere to Gene Roddenberry's vision.

However, co-creator Brannon Braga told critics last July, "This is not just going to be a season of battling with these aliens trying to destroy Earth. There are going to be twists and turns and attempts at peace and all the things we think 'Star Trek' viewers expect."

Braga did not care to explore why national ratings fell in the show's second season from between 5 and 6 to between 2 and 3 (although Seattle's high numbers continued).

"I don't think creatively we were doing anything wrong," he said. Asked why viewers bailed, he replied, "Don't know. Don't know."

Hovering over the press conference was the specter that "Star Trek's" long run of TV shows may be approaching the end. "Enterprise" has not only gone down in viewers; it largely has failed to attract uninitiated audiences to the wonders of "Trek."

Kay McFadden: