Sunday, April 15, 8-10 p.m.

It helps a lot if you check your disbelief at the door before diving into "Drive," Fox's new adrenaline-injected midseason drama that aspires not only to ensnare the youth demographic but evidently the old farts, too (as evidenced by the use of remixes of tunes from the Doors, at least in the rough cut of the pilot supplied for review).

In order to buy into the concept here, you've got to accept the notion that a disparate collection of adults will drop everything to head off on a wild goose chase in their cars just because some mysterious dude they've never met calls on a cellphone he just delivered to them and orders them to get going. Drop your lives, don't ask why, do not pass "Go," do not collect $200. But if you win, you collect $32 million. If you lose, zip.

OK, now show of hands: How many of you would accept these terms and do it? How many would assume the guy was insane and try to have him tracked and hauled off to jail? Well, of course in "Drive" everyone takes the bait, and damn if you don't start to think, "You know, I just might too." Of course, that may say more about me than it does the dramatic quality of the series, though you surely find yourself taken in by the show's heart-racing intensity and sheen of mystery.

Outrageously implausible though it is, it's easy to begin obsessing over why some of these people seem more desperate than others, why a few appear to be racing to save someone's life and why the plump, balding man who set it all up (Charles Martin Smith) has no first name -- evidently because guys like this never do. He's Mr. Bright, and that's that.

The intriguing cast of basket cases and misfits who populate this underground (and very illegal) cross-country road race is headed by Nathan Fillion of "Firefly" and "Serenity" fame as Alex Tully, who is forced to get into the race to find his missing wife (again, we don't know why). He also has to log time with a woman (Kristin Lehman) who seems to be making it up as she goes along and who has at least one guy trying to kill her. There's also a new mother (Melanie Lynskey) running from her abusive husband, a geek scientist (Dylan Baker) trying to show his bitchy teenage daughter (Emma Stone) that he's cool after all and a young hood (Kevin Alejandro) who joins the race to bond with a half-brother he's never met. Then there are the Hurricane Katrina survivors and the woman trying to keep her military boyfriend from being sent back to Iraq.

Mind you, none of these people knows whom they're competing against, where the finish line is or how long this is all going to take -- or why the guy playing with their heads couldn't just split up the prize money and give 'em a few million apiece.

"Drive" is at once exasperating and mesmerizing, utterly ridiculous if you read too much into it but utterly beguiling on its face. Creator-executive producers Tim Minear and Ben Queen create in their opening teleplay a surreal world of bewilderment and menace. And while some of the dialogue is leaden and/or fanciful, we still get quickly involved in the whole crazy, mixed-up thing. Part of that may be due to the intriguing way director Greg Yaitanes frames the driving action, the cars made to become almost characters unto themselves.

The performances here are adequate, not exceptional (though Fillion is plenty convincing as a guy who can't quite grasp what the hell is going on). In its first hour, "Drive" works not because it's so terribly original but due simply to the dynamic way it draws us into its admittedly wiggy premise. If that serves as an apology for liking it, so be it. But I'm looking forward to watching Episode 2, which just arrived by mail a couple of minutes ago. We'll see how it holds up.

Dreamworks Inc. and 20th Century Fox Television
Creators-teleplay: Ben Queen, Tim Minear
Executive producers: Greg Yaitanes, Ben Queen, Tim Minear
Co-executive producer: Tom Szentgyorgyi
Producer: John B. Moranville
Co-producers: Salvatore Stabile, Eoghan Mahony
Associate producers: Tony Palermo, John J. Gray
Director: Greg Yaitanes
Director of photography: Christopher Manley
Production designer: Victoria Paul
Art director: Michael Budge
Costume designer: Victoria Auth
Visual effects supervisor: Loni Peristere
Editor: Scott James Wallace
Music: Brian Tyler, Keith Power
Casting: Molly Lopata, Camille St. Cyr
Alex Tully: Nathan Fillion
Wendy Patrakas: Melanie Lynskey
John Trimble: Dylan Baker
Violet Trimble: Emma Stone
Winston Salazar: Kevin Alejandro
Sean Salazar: J.D. Pardo
Ivy Chitty: Taryn Manning
Leigh Barnthouse: Rochelle Aytes
Susan Chamblee: Michael Hyatt
Ellie Howe: Mircea Monroe
Rob Laird: Riley Smith
Corinna Wiles: Kristin Lehman
Mr. Bright: Charles Martin Smith