Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: The Pretender Among Us

Michael T. Weiss as super-genius Jarod, TV's The Pretender
The Pretender was a series that aired probably a decade too late to truly find its calling. Debuting on NBC in fall of 1996 as part of their ballyhooed "Thrillogy" of fantasy-tinged suspense series (which also included criminalist skein Profiler and the short-lived Dark Skies), the series starred Michael T. Weiss as Jarod, a super genius who could subsume himself into any identity with the barest of research. Kidnapped as a child and forced into the servitude of an evil organization called the Centre, the adult Jarod made his escape and set about using his gifts to right wrongs and help the downtrodden while also trying to piece together the puzzle of his identity. Like Quantum Leap a decade earlier (which also aired on NBC, and which I talked about here), The Pretender was a "quest" show that hinged on a likable lead assuming new identities in every episode.

The way it usually went down was that Jarod would show up in that episode's designated role (i.e. doctor, pilot, lifeguard, teacher, etc.) specifically to ferret out some recent wrongdoing and forcing the perpetrators to come clean after reliving their crimes ("You left Mr. x behind to die so you could marry his wife/take his job/steal his money, didn't you? Didn't you??" "Yes! Yes! Jarod, get me out of this sinking car/crashing elevator/gas-filled room!" Cue the sweet sound of justice.) All the while, the bloodhounds from the Centre, led by the beautiful/nasty (beautifully nasty?) Ms. Parker (played by the appropriately named Andrea Parker), are mere steps away from recapturing him. For some reason, vids of the intro are impossible to find on YouTube, but here's an NBC promo hyping the then-impending series' debut:

Feels like something straight out of the '80s, no? I really dug this show. The pseudo-superhero angle, plus the mysterious backstory, plus the childlike innocence Weiss conveyed were a terrific mix. It was appointment viewing for me during its late '90s run (after all, it's not like I had anything going on Saturday nights, right?) It had a deceptively simple setup that frankly shouldn't have worked nearly as well as it did, allowing for one-and-done stories from episode to episode while still laying out a trail of breadcrumbs that would (theoretically) pay off for longtime viewers. Unfortunately for those longtime viewers, NBC put the show down after its fourth season, unceremoniously ending its run in May 2000 without a hint of resolution to the questions about Jarod's parents and his connection to Ms. Parker.

The plot threads ladled out over the series' 86 eps were picked up again, however briefly, with two TV movies that aired on the cable network TNT: The Pretender 2001 and The Pretender: Island of the Haunted, which aired in January and December of '01, respectively. The first one was pretty good (both in terms of quality and in the ratings), the second one was pretty bad (both in terms of quality and in the ratings), but neither flick offered the resolution that a series-ending cliffhanger would seemingly require. And that was the last anyone heard of The Pretender since. Though creators Craig Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell have, as recently as just a few years ago, promised some kind of continuation of the Pretender saga, I think there's a little bit of pretending going on there if they think it's actually going to happen. In the meantime though, you can buy the entire series on DVD, or just watch it on Hulu -- check out episode one below:

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