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7/07/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Nightmares & Dreamscapes

Turner Network Television Wednesday, July 12 (9 p.m.)

TNT scares up an all-star cast and top-shelf production values for its ambitious anthology Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King. What it does not scare, unfortunately, is viewers.

Eight adaptations of King tales presented over four weeks, Nightmares manages to make the macabre seem mundane or, as in its first two installments, downright silly. Opener “Battleground,” featuring William Hurt as a hit man besieged by a platoon of toy soldiers, is an exercise in economy (there is no dialogue) and excess (it stretches its one joke to fill an entire hour). Similarly, “Crouch End,” which immediately follows on the same night, takes its honeymooners-in-a-strange-town to absurd extremes.

Week two opts for sentimentality, rather than shivers. “Umney’s Last Case” is the most successful of the four episodes reviewed, if only by comparison, thanks to William H. Macy’s entertaining double turn as an author and a fictional detective. On the other hand, “The End of the Whole Mess” is a far-too-solemn-for-its-own-good meditation on the cruelty of man.

According to production notes, some 1,000 people worked on the series, which also recruited the services of 10 dogs, two cats, five dead wasps and two kilos of maggots. Now that’s scary. —George Vernadakis

Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis

Sci Fi Channel Friday, July 14 (9 p.m./10 p.m.)

(SG-1); (Atlantis) The two Stargates reopen this week with action heroes from Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis separately fighting to save Earth from the intergalactic perils established in season-ending cliffhangers in March. SG-1, remarkably, is entering its cable-drama record 10th season, while spinoff Atlantis embarks on season three. The shows share a studio complex in Vancouver, executive producers and writers (and, occasionally, stars), and both enjoy high per-episode budgets.

For this reviewer, in a replay of last July, the spinoff has so successfully borrowed from the original that the first two Atlantis episodes contain more dramatic action and more memorable scenes than do the SG-1 starters. But it’s a close call, as both seem so much more settled and confident in their status as “Sci Fi Friday” mainstays than they did two years ago, when SG-1 was wrapping up former star Richard Dean Anderson’s gradual exodus and Atlantis was a baby. The difference might come down to which baddies you prefer — the human-essence-sucking Wraith on Atlantis or the worship-demanding Ori (and use of King Arthurian myth) on SG-1. Comparing initial episodes, we give an edge to Atlantis and director Martin Wood, who used to handle the toughest SG-1 two-parters.

Either way, welcome back Stargate. —Kent Gibbons

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