If you ever have a raging case of the hiccups, you might be better off asking a friend to yell "Boo!" than watching "Fear Itself." NBC's new anthology horror series is, like far too many TV horror anthologies before it, just not scary enough. The first three episodes are a string of cliched fright plots that won't make you jump out of your seat so much as deliberately leave it in search of more entertaining activity.
You can't fault NBC for not pursuing talent. "Fear Itself," starting tonight at 10 on Channel 7, comprises 13 episodes made by a roster of able directors, including John Landis, Mary Harron, and Ernest Dickerson. But you can fault at least the first three of those name directors - Breck Eisner, Brad Anderson, and Ronny Yu - for delivering excessively amateurish product.
Eisner's hour, tonight, is called "The Sacrifice," and it's a souffle of vampire banality. Four young criminals wander into an old, abandoned compound of buildings where a few gaunt women are up to no good. Like demented Olsen sisters, the mysterious sirens trap the men and - well, I won't give the obvious away. Only the presence of Jesse Plemons, Landry from "Friday Night Lights," lends this piece any distinction.
One great thing about "The Twilight Zone," aside from its provocative writing and gothic stylization: Each episode was a half-hour long. So many sci-fi concepts really have only a half-hour of material in them before the writers must strain to fill. A second hour sent for review, Anderson's "Spooked," is a thin idea - Eric Roberts as a fired rogue cop dogged by his past wrongdoings - stretched way beyond its potential. A haunted house as a metaphor for a haunted psyche? Roberts twisting his rubbery face into all kinds of angst and torment? Yeah, that.
Yu's "Family Man" moves no more briskly, and with only a skosh more originality. Colin Ferguson plays a loving husband and father who, after a car accident, magically changes bodies with a serial killer. When he goes back to his family, he is crazed, like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." The hour has other "Shining" allusions regarding Daddy's little girl, but it doesn't ever manage to reach the level of fun. Watching it, you'll have nothing to fear but wasting precious time.