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BIG IDEAS FOR A SMALL PLANET

Sundance Channel • Tuesday, April 17 (9 p.m.)

Citing research data indicating that environmental issues were “part of the DNA” of its brand and audience, Sundance Channel launched “The Green” campaign, consisting of public-service announcements and programming such as the 13-episode series Big Ideas for a Small Planet, premiering April 17.

Big Ideas is an entertaining and educational enough addition to the growing ranks of eco-sensitive content on screens large and small, spurred largely by the critical and commercial success of Al Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Each installment focuses on a specific area such as alternative fuels, green housing and environmentally friendly clothing — assigned fashionably sparse titles such as “Fuel,” “Build” and “Wear” that are in keeping with Sundance's indie vibe. But the 30-minute format is also limiting in terms of how deep the series can drill into any particular area, and the effect — at least judging from the three episodes reviewed — is more of an informed skim than a deep dig. Still, any practical look at how individuals can make lifestyle choices that literally have a global impact is worthwhile.

Produced by Scout Productions (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), Big Ideas lays down the to-be-expected particulars of global warming and sheds some light on the science behind responsible alternatives such as biodiesel fuel and organic fabrics. But the series never affects an academic tone, opting instead for a positive, we-can-make-a-difference tone that should strike a chord with Sundance's core audience. The show's message, to paraphrase one of its talking heads, is that we can have a world that's green and stylish.

Shown every Tuesday, Big Ideas will book-end a thematically related documentary. First up: the “Fuel” episode will accompany Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, a film about the world's oil reserves.

— George Vernadakis

PAINKILLER JANE

Sci Fi Channel • Friday Nights (10 p.m.)

Sci Fi Channel seems to be on a cop show kick lately. Eureka's main character is a U.S. Marshal. The Dresden Files' Harry Dresden helps the Chicago police solve supernatural crimes. And now, Painkiller Jane's DEA agent Jane Vasco joins the ranks.

Vasco (Kristianna Loken) is recruited by a secret government agency, whose job it is to hunt Neuros — mutants with neurological powers (such as mind control or the ability to animate the dead). Vasco has a secret of her own: She has a healing factor. Jane discovers her ability when she survives a 46-story fall and puts it to good use in her job.

The one thing she can't escape is pain. And though it isn't fully clear from the first two episodes, it looks like she inflicts pain upon herself when she feels stressed. But her character in the first two episodes is hard to pin down. At times she comes off as a hard-nosed cop, a depressed loner or bubbly and almost schoolgirlish.

Loken is familiar to sci-fi fans as the Terminatrix in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and as Rayne in the video game-based movie BloodRayne. Stemming from a comic-book series, Painkiller Jane's first episode (which aired April 13) has some video game-inspired elements, like small boxes that pop up on screen identifying the players in a drug bust. But those quickly disappear and it becomes another mutant-fighting action show.

With tighter direction, the heavily-hyped show has potential to become a stylized super hero series, but after the first two episodes it seems in danger of following the failed footsteps of Flash, Witchblade, Night Man and Manimal.

— Eric J. Smith

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