The Pretender: The Complete First Season
Online petitions and letter-writing campaigns from avid fans have resulted, at long last, in a DVD box set of TV's The Pretender, which debuted on NBC in 1996. The show, starring Michael T. Weiss, had a solid-if-unspectacular run through 2000 and then went into syndication on TNT, who also produced two made-for-TV Pretender movies in 2001. A smart, complex, multi-layered mystery-thriller with a top-notch cast, the show focused on a man named Jarod, taken from his parents as a child and installed at an isolated think-tank called The Centre. A genius with an uncanny gift for mimicry and empathy, Jarod is one of a select number of people known as "pretenders," who can, with a modicum of research, assume the identity of anyone they choose. At The Centre, Jarod spent his life running simulations for his captors on everything from potential political assassinations to railway disasters. Having eventually figured out that his work was being sold to world governments not to benefit mankind but for nefarious purposes, Jarod's now escaped from The Centre and is on a mission to use to his abilities to help others always just one step ahead of Sydney (Patrick Bauchau), the shrink/trainer/father figure who watched over him, and hard-nosed Miss Parker (Andrea Parker), daughter of The Centre's founder who's determined to remove Jarod from society one way or another. The three-pronged, episodic storylines usually involved Jarod leaving hints for Sydney and Miss Parker as to his current assignation as he took on the identity of a doctor, a pilot, or a member of law enforcement and righted some wrong perpetrated against an innocent. Meanwhile, Sydney, Parker and, occasionally, their computer-expert cohort Broots (Jon Gries) would try and track him down. The third element was Jarod's search for his identity, as he attempted to find out who he was and what happened to the parents he was taken from when he was four years old and his discovery along the way of all the things he'd missed out on during his years in The Centre, like soft-serve ice cream, the blues, and Mr. Potato Head. It was, in its way, an ingenious setup for a television series a rich backstory starring a character who can become anyone in any profession, thus allowing the writers to place him in almost endless situations. In Season One, Jarod becomes a member of the Coast Guard to investigate a death in "Every Picture Tells a Story"; gets a job as head of security at a Vegas casino to solve the death of a showgirl in "Curious Jarod"; poses as a virologist to find a missing scientist in "A Virus Among Us"; becomes a member of a bomb squad to find a serial bomber in "Bomb Squad" (which originally aired on NBC as "Potato Head Blues"); falls in love (and has sex for the first time!) while on a search-and-rescue mission in "Ranger Jarod"; and seeks to avenge the death of a refugee's parents in "Keys." Over the course of the season, the main characters gradually discover clues to Jarod's past involving twins, the number "SL 27," and other pretenders including Jarod's long-lost brother (Jeffrey Donovan). Starting out as something of a "The Fugitive meets Then Came Bronson" blend, over the course of the first season The Pretender became something considerably more complex, with mysteries unfolding and multi-layered storylines intersecting. This, along with Weiss's sometimes boyish, sometimes dangerous, always impressive portrayal of the titular character raised the show far above the usual network fodder, perhaps setting the stage for later smart suspense shows like "24," "Alias," and "Lost."
* * *
Fox's The Pretender: The Complete First Season is a very nice package, indeed. Crisp, richly saturated full-screen transfers (1.33:1) look better than that show ever did when originally broadcast. The DD 2.0 audio (in English, Spanish, or French with optional Spanish or English subtitles) is excellent as well. Four double-sided discs are packaged in two sleek, slimline cases enclosed in an attractive paperboard slipcover. Along with the 22 first-season episodes (including the pilot), the two-part finale "Dragon House" features optional commentary by series creators Craig W. Sickle and Syteven Long Mitchell, director Fred Keller, and actor Jon Grier. Also on board are a three-part (11 min. each) "making-of" featurette and TV spots.