Monkeying around with lord of the apes

Me critic. You stink.

Not literally. The Tarzan who appears in WB's new Tarzan television series is a remarkably well-groomed and, apparently, well-scrubbed Tarzan.


Advancements in hygienic products - the very products that tend to advertise on WB shows, as a matter of fact - seem to have made it very easy to keep up appearances while on the lam from your evil relatives in New York City, no matter how many rooftop leaps you have to perform, how many tall-building gargoyles you have to hang from.

Whether swinging up fire escapes or roaming barefoot through Manhattan, Travis Fimmel, the Calvin Klein model selected for the rich-boy-turned-ape-man role, practically radiates all-day freshness as he strikes sundry sultry poses, most of them shirtless.


It's the show (9 p.m.tomorrow, WB, Channel 54) that emanates a foul smell, the stench of illogic, overproduction and cynicism.

This is WB's all-too-obvious attempt to copy its success with Smallville, which also turns one of popular culture's enduring heroes into poster art for teen girls' bedroom walls.

But what Smallville does to Superman looks cerebral next to this paint-by-numbers mishmash of crime drama; longing, allegedly steamy glances; and calculated pandering to the demographic.

Tarzan is John Clayton, the Greystoke Industries heir rediscovered in the jungle by his uncle (Mitch Pileggi, X-Files), who is now running the company and who wants to keep Tarzan in shackles.

We're supposed to believe, to the extent any motivation is clear here, that it's because Tarzan is a threat for control of the company, but that the uncle wouldn't have just had him killed back in the jungle.

We're also supposed to believe private-industry centurions who swoop down in helicopters and kidnap people on rooftops would do it while wearing the company logo.

That Tarzan's English remains at least as good as a male supermodel's after two decades among slightly less verbal primates.

That massive chemical explosions mar their victims only on one cheekbone, and with rakish, perfectly aligned twin scrapes at that.


And that a police official would argue that an uncle has clear custodial rights to his nephew, an adult.

The Jane Porter here, a New York City cop, used to be in the show's title before the "and Jane" was dropped.

It's too bad because Sarah Wayne Callies, as the demoted heroine, has some spark, even if her character has to pine openly for bigger cases, a.k.a. more adult responsibility, and endure a roommate who's as callow and boy-obsessed as Teen Cosmo.

Any moment that's supposed to be emotional gets a contemporary pop song layered over it, because in the WB's world, it's not a feeling unless an angsty singer-songwriter is explaining that feeling to you.

And to prove Jane's cop mettle, there's a side case about a serial arsonist that is surely intended as a send-up of real police series, just as this might, with only a little tweaking, play as a parody of what Edgar Rice Burroughs intended.

Burroughs wrote his Tarzan of the Apes as pulp-magazine fodder, but labored to give his Tarzan humanity, a soul inside of his loincloth. The WB, 91 years later, just wants the loincloth.