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<i>Eureka</I>: Chicken Soup for the SyFy Soul

With Battlestar Galactica dormant until that prequel movie Blood & Chrome arrives sometime next year and Stargate in deep freeze for the foreseeable future, Eureka is now the veteran franchise of SyFy's scripted series line-up. Heading into the second half of Season 4 (the first 10 episodes aired last summer), the show has steadily morphed into the channel's version of comfort food, offering light-hearted episodic misadventures in science (fiction), which generally involve some technical doodad malfunctioning, thus forcing the cast to spend the rest of the hour trying to fix it. (It's like a version of House starring Bill Nye, the Science Guy.) And despite the world-ending nature of some of these calamities, the stakes never feel all that high. That's because we've become trained to expect one our intrepid heroes -- usually Jack Carter (the always-charming Colin Ferguson), the sheriff of the titular small Pacific Northwest town where science is the sole industry -- to jerryrig some solution before everything goes kablooey. It's a routine, but engaging formula that's kept the show going for over 50 episodes now, so the writers have little reason to change it.

That's not to say that they haven't tried to shake things up in the past, both for creative and budgetary reasons. Midway through Season 3, they got rid of one of their more popular characters, Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn), the arrogant head of Global Dynamics (the massive research facility that produces all the gadgets that malfunction) and the chief obstacle keeping Jack away from his designated love interest, Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield). (At the end of that year, they also jettisoned Jack's annoying teenage daughter Zoe, which caused far less of an outcry.) Then in the fourth season premiere, they literally rewrote history, sending the core cast -- including Jack and Allison, as well as genius inventor Henry Deacon (Joe Morton), tough-minded deputy Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra) and bumbling junior scientist Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston) -- back to the 1940s. When they finally returned to the present day, they not only brought along a new visitor (BSG's James Callis, who isn't back for this half of the season...at least, not yet), but also found themselves leading very different lives. The previously single Henry was married, Allison's autistic son Kevin was suddenly "normal," Jo traded her police badge for a private gig as GD's head of security and Fargo improbably became chief of the entire facility. The only person that didn't change all that much was Jack, who still has the same job, lives in the same (artificially intelligent) house and pines for the same woman. At least now his affection is reciprocated as he and Allison have -- really and truly -- become a couple.

Unlike last year's season premiere, this first episode back, entitled "Liftoff" aired last night, doesn't really do much to mess with the current status quo. The A-plot finds Fargo and Zane Donovan (Niall Matter) -- Eureka's resident bad boy that was engaged to Jo in the other universe, but is now back to just pissing her off -- accidentally blasting off into orbit inside a decommissioned nuclear rocket. It's up to Jack, Allison and Henry to find a way to guide them safely back to Earth, no easy task when Eureka is in the midst of a blackout and communication with the spacecraft is limited. Other storylines involve a weird plan to marry Jack's A.I.-enhanced house SARAH to his cyborg deputy Andy (supposedly they're doing this to study whether computers can experience love in the same way humans do, but it sounds more like whichever scientist proposed the idea was really, really high at the time) and Kevin's desire to start helping Jack out in the field despite still being a minor. [Note: This subplot is part of next week's episode -- Ethan] In other words, it's a typical episode of Eureka -- entirely pleasant without being too emotionally or mentally taxing. The most notable plot development occurs in the closing moments, when Ming Na (formerly of Stargate Universe) pops up as a powerful senator who launches an investigation into Eureka that could potentially threaten the town's future.

In the coming weeks, Jack will confront a computer virus that causes Eureka's citizens to act out the songs they listen to (in other words, you wouldn't want to stand next to somebody that's rocking out to "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") and Jo is implanted with an experimental technology that allows her to peer a few minutes into the future. (Clearly, one of the writers must have caught that Nic Cage movie Next on cable one night.) The show also picks up a new cast member in the form of geek favorite Felicia Day, who plays a socially awkward Department of Defense minion that's helping to oversee a special GD/DoD project. (Her real role, of course, is to finally give Fargo a love interest.) A few familiar faces return as well, including Fargo's nemesis Dr. Parrish (Wil Wheaton) and a mischief-making character from Season 1 that reappeared last year and is apparently still hanging around town and will undoubtedly be up to no good as the season progresses. That's Eureka for you in a nutshell -- the more things change, the more they stay the same. And the show's fans probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Watch TWoP's editors preview the summer's most pleasant TV surprises in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop cable news channel:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcnewyork.com.

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