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It's no surprise to learn the sci-fi suspenser

"Threshold" is being produced by "Star Trek" spin-offs veteran Brannon Braga.

This new alien-invasion hour gets around to sounding smart with fractional

geometry, chaos theory and DNA strands before its first hour is out.

It's also no surprise it's on CBS. The ploddingly measured pace of the show

gives it the same weight - deadly or deliberate, your choice - as all the

network's other procedural investigations. Throw in aliens, and change-o

presto, it's supposed to skew younger. It's "Trek"-y. It's even got Data!

But casting Brent Spiner in a quirky role does not a youthful stew make.

"Trek" itself is old news now, and the notion CBS doesn't know that does not

bode well for a concept that might otherwise be enlivened into something worth

watching again.

Think of it as close encounters of the computer kind. Spooky forces have

assaulted the crew of a cargo freighter in the north Atlantic, unleashing a

"worst case scenario" of "the unthinkable" that, of course, requires the

attention of an "elite team" - this TV season's big drama buzzword. The

contingency analyst played by star Carla Gugino calls together a ragtag group

of experts to probe the ways in which a possible alien power is attempting to

download some sort of software into human beings that makes them go all gonzo.

For this task, she taps Spiner's microbiologist, a "former '60s radical -

stubborn as hell." Others introduced in such handy expository fashion include

Rob Benedict's loopy astrophysicist (and former "Jeopardy!" winner), Peter

Dinklage's linguist with a "gambling, booze and stripper problem" (he's also a

dwarf), and Brian Van Holt's intimidating ex-spy who provides the team's

muscle. Charles S. Dutton needs no intro for being their overbearingly solemn

government overseer. You can practically feel the nuts and bolts of the show's

structure being screwed into place. Would you be surprised to learn that Gugino

is one of those professional whiz women with no personal life who's haunted by

dark family secrets?

Thing is, the pilot's physical execution is pretty snazzy. The scenes on

the ship look sharp (and scary). The alien presence is intriguingly

represented, as is the role of technology. There's a good "gotcha" thrill every

segment of the premiere's first hour (the only half available for review by

deadline time). There's also a good deal of brutality and blood. This

demonstrates that alien invasion is not for the squeamish and this show is

probably not for young kids and other impressionables.

But just when "Threshold" is starting to grab you, it calms down to cut

back to experts conferring - each getting some curt comment to make, before

Gugino sums up with "We don't have time for fear, we don't have the luxury of

self-doubt. We've gotta stare into the face of the unknown and make damn sure

we don't blink." Then she's home with her dog, eating packaged food out of the

fridge, having creepy dreams. The first hour manages to feel both mechanical

and manipulative, without feeling truly exciting or even grounded anyplace.

Maybe Braga is just thrilled to be off the (space) ship. "Threshold" looks

ready to hopscotch locations in search of the alien secret, a la "X-Files." The

emotional tone feels like it wants to be warmer than that chilly saga yet

unsure how personal it's prepared to get. Viewers may find their threshold of

patience tested while "Threshold" figures that out.

THRESHOLD. Aliens invading? An elite team moves into action! Series premieres

tonight 9-11 p.m., then airs Friday at 9 on CBS/2.

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