Unnatural History -- TV Review



A public- service message: If randomly clicking the remote Sunday night brings up a Cartoon Network program with real live people, don't bother adjusting your set. Breaking with tradition, the network is launching its first live-action mystery series, a sign of greater programming flexibility and evidence of the increasingly fierce hunt for adolescent eyeballs.

In or out of the demo, though, "Unnatural History" is a robust and appealing cross between the Hardy Boys and Indiana Jones with a little bit of "National Treasure" thrown in for good measure. Although creator Mike Werb's premise is a tad far-fetched, the characters and story are engaging enough to set aside doubts.

Equally important, there is no talking down to the demo. Judging from the premiere, Werb's stories will have enough twists and oddball characters to engage all ages.

Kevin G. Schmidt stars as intellectually curious and often impulsive Henry Griffin, a teen who has been a world traveler for as long as he can remember. Along the way, he has picked up more than a cursory knowledge of native lore, including martial arts, herbal medicine and athletic abilities that border on superpowers.

Henry is not eager to return to the good ol' US of A but eventually arrives at the home of his uncle, Bryan (Martin Donovan), and cousin, Jasper (Jordan Gavaris). In one of those incredible coincidences, Uncle Bryan just happens to be principal of the unique D.C. high school Henry will attend, a school that is an adjunct to a prestigious museum complex.

Jasper, already burdened by being the principal's son, is less than enthusiastic about the arrival of his cousin, who made him the butt of a practical joke on his 10th birthday.

Rounding out the cast (and forming the apex of a "like" triangle) is Maggie Winnock (Italia Ricci), a brilliant and lovely student who, until meeting Henry, had little use for boys.
In the opener, a museum researcher (also Henry's god���father) dies, apparently of a heart attack, before he is ready to announce the results of his latest investigation. Henry quickly discerns there was no heart attack and, with the help of his new associates, untangles the murder mystery. Along the way, he also uncovers a quirk of history that has all the earmarks of a future PBS special.

The young cast clicks nicely, and the special effects go just far enough without being distracting. With the proper promotion, there's a potential franchise here.

Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Sundays, June 13 (Cartoon Network)
Production: Warner Horizon Television
Cast: Kevin G. Schmidt, Jordan Gavaris, Italia Ricci, Martin Donovan, Colin Fox, Matt Baram, Rosa Laborde
Executive producers: Mike Werb, Thania St. John, Mikael Salomon
Producer: Carol Dunn Trussell
Director: Mikael Salomon
Writer: Mike Werb
Director of photography: Bruce Chun, John Dyer
Production designer: Anastasia Masaro
Editor: Michael Ornstein
Music: Jon Ehrlich
Casting: Tina Gerussi