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THE NEW SEASON / Changing the Future / Hapless guy relives life with time travel


THAT WAS THEN. "Back to the Future"-esque adventures of a 30-year-old washout

who gets a supernatural opportunity to relive his terminally scarring teenage

years. Series premieres tonight at 9 on WABC/7.

Do not confuse ABC's "That Was Then" with The WB's similarly themed but

smarter "Do Over." This is more like "Doofus Over."

Travis Glass (James Bulliard) is a chronic loser who, as his 30th birthday

draws near, fronts the bookmaking business he and his older brother, Gregg

(Brad Raider), inherited from their dad. Gregg takes bets in a back room while

Travis sells boards - oak, pine, plywood - and is bored stiff. To make the

situation more miserable, obnoxious Gregg is unappreciatively married to a

woman Travis has worshipped since high school.

If only he could go back to that time knowing what he knows now, Travis

believes, he could get his life on track. And sure enough, one stormy night

while he's lying in bed listening to rock music of his youth, lightning strikes

his house, rips through his stereo system, crackles up the cord to his

headphones and - no, it doesn't burn his hair off. It transports him to 1988 on

the eve of the public-speaking fiasco he blames for all his adult failures.

Successful series have been built around less interesting fantasies, but

the creators of "That Was Then" are almost as hapless as their hero. They

saddled themselves with a casting nightmare. As the supposedly 16-year-old

Travis, Bulliard looks closer to 26. And in the fake beard that's intended to

make him look 30, he just looks silly. In fact, none of the cast members who

have to play two ages is convincing.

Despite this distraction and some other improbabilities, the middle section

of tonight's premiere, in which Travis struggles to rise above stage fright

and step between his beloved Claudia (Kiele Sanchez) and Gregg, produces some

entertaining moments. Most of them involve Tyler Labine as Travis' mischievous

buddy Donnie Pinkus. Pinkus is the sort of id-ish character Jack Black would

have played before he graduated to movie roles.

Unfortunately, the episode's ending raises questions about where this

series can and will go. Travis returns to the present to find he has a

different, more successful life, including a wife, but also that he has caused

changes in relationships and even "erased" someone dear to him. So he must go

back and try to set things right - which suggests that the series will either

become redundant or hopelessly complicated.

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