Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Night Stalker-Complete Series

Night Stalker-Complete Series
If Night Stalker had been given a chance to establish its own identity, this "reimagining" of the popular early '70s TV movies might have thrived. Instead, many viewers perceived the short-lived series as a thinly disguised X-Files spinoff, with former X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz apparently hired to recycle X-Files plots in a slightly different format. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the series boasts superior production values and dark, sometimes violent horror plots as effectively creepy as anything seen on X-Files. But fans of the original (both TV movies and 1974 series) bristled at ABC's obvious youth-market makeover that turned Darren McGavin's original "Carl Kolchak" from a cynical, sarcastic middle-aged reporter on the fringes of journalism into a hip, handsome, Mustang-driving young reporter (played by Irish actor Stuart Townsend) who's literally marked for death in what was intended (if the series had survived) to be an epic battle of good vs. evil. By pairing Kolchak with an equally young, attractive, and skeptical colleague named Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union), the series struggled to find its place among such popular shows as Medium and the CSI juggernaut, and there just wasn't enough originality to keep viewers interested. Ratings plummeted after the pilot premiered on September 29, 2005, and of the ten episodes produced and included here, only six were broadcast before the show's inevitable cancellation. As Spotnitz conceived it (with several X-Files veterans serving as directors or consulting producers), Night Stalker revolved around an epic "mythology" that would've emerged had the series continued. Spotnitz outlines these broader details in his smart, informative DVD commentaries, allowing viewers a greater appreciation of how the series was being planned. As it stands, the new Kolchak is striving to solve the violent, monstrous attack that killed his wife, and his ongoing investigations draw him deeper into supernatural events, mostly explored in episodes so similar to X-Files that you could easily exchange Kolchak and Reed for agents Mulder and Scully and barely notice the difference. From their high-rise offices at the Los Angeles Beacon (beautifully filmed in high-def digital video), Kolchak and Reed solve brutal murders, bizarre deaths, and other mysteries with the help of photographer Jain McManus (Eric Jungman) and editor Tony Vincenzo (Cotter Smith), while a cynical FBI agent (semi-regular cast member John Pyper-Ferguson) suspects Kolchak of killing his wealthy wife to inherit her estate. As these 10 episodes demonstrate, the hard-won trust between Kolchak and Reed would become the series' emotional anchor, with Townsend and Union establishing an appealing chemistry that served the series well. Unfortunately, Night Stalker was doomed from the start. The series was cancelled in the midst of a two-part episode, leaving viewers with an unresolved cliffhanger and unanswered questions about the mysterious "four horsemen of the apocalypse" biker gang that's been a looming threat throughout these episodes. Thanks to Spotnitz's detailed commentaries and video interview included on this two-disc set (along with printable DVD-ROM scripts from unproduced episodes), these and other mysteries are tantalizingly explained, and these ten Night Stalker episodes stand as testament to a high-quality series that never had a chance to prove its long-term potential. --Jeff Shannon

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