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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Night Stalker

I watched the Night Stalker premiere tonight. While it's not nearly as good as the original Kolchak series, it's not as bad as the critics described, particularly the Washington Post's second string reviewer, Chip Crews (whose no chip off the old Tom Shales). There were aspects of the show I really liked (Gabrielle Union, decent directing). It doesn't capture the gritty realism of the original series which helped accentuate the horrific elements by grounding it in realism. Comic Book Wife links to several pro and con reviews. A review which better captures the series than The Post's is the Hollywood Reporter's.

It has been 30 years since "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" prowled at ABC, enough time to challenge anyone's memory. That's probably for the best because in some ways "Night Stalker," as newly envisioned by Frank Spotnitz of "The X-Files" fame, differs markedly from the original. If, however, the new series is judged on how well it scares and entertains and not on how carefully it is cloned, it is both a success and unique among the shows on the fall menu. In the original, which lasted only one season, Darren McGavin played Carl Kolchak, a Chicago reporter who, week after week, ran into stories filled with horrible surprises and elements of the supernatural. His editor, Tony Vincenzo, was skeptical but Kolchak knew there was a lot going on in this world that defied simple and logical explanations. In the new version, Kolchak still knows the world can be a weird and dangerous place, but he's a young man (Stuart Townsend), brash and fearless, unlike the original Kolchak, a wisecracker at the tail end of his career who had seen it all. The new Kolchak migrated west, where he is employed by the fictional Los Angeles Beacon. Vincenzo (Cotter Smith), Kolchak's editor, has faith in his young employee. However, Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union), the paper's crime reporter and reluctant partner with Kolchak, assumes the role of series skeptic.
Don't, however, think that Reed is simply the series version of Scully. Reed is much quicker to believe than Scully in the first few years of the X-Files. What I didn't like is how the series glamorizes the reporters, from their newsroom to the car Kolchak drives to the way they dress to their attractiveness. In the original, Carl Kolchak looked and dressed and acted every bit the part of a dogged, world-weary crime reporter who had seen and lived it all, leaving him as rumpled as his suit and battered as his straw hat. Hopefully, and from some of the reviews it appears to be true, the series improves from this not-bad beginning. UPDATED: From my Night Stalker email group, came this New York Times review:
The series is driven by two urbane reporters at an imaginary Los Angeles newspaper, The Beacon. Stuart Townsend refreshes the crusty Carl Kolchak role that Darren McGavin inhabited in the original 1972 made-for-television movie and in the 1974-75 series. Those who loved the old vampire hunter may pine for Mr. McGavin's creased face and straw hat. The rest of us can admire Mr. Townsend's update of a smoldering loner who is still aching after the loss of his wife. The premiere presents Kolchak's vision of that violent death, but he still has trouble making everyone believe what he saw.
Hey the Times got something correct and on the same day Judith Miller agreed to testify - the stars are aligned right. Overall The Times gives it a good review and that makes me hopeful that Ned Martel saw something in the second episode to create such positive spin.


Blogger Curt said...

I've never seen the original series, believe it or not (my childhood was very horror-deprived), so I can't draw comparisons, but I didn't especially care for this new pilot episode. Just from what I've heard about the first series, I'll be investing in the upcoming set.

10/01/2005 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Thomas Veil said...

I too was disappointed in the series. It does not have the energy, the wit, or the realism of the original. Where's the morbidly jazzy music? Where's the ongoing noir-style narration? Where's the snappy patter?

Several things were outright absurd. Kolchak driving a new Mustang? Kolchak having a swimming pool in his fashionable penthouse? Are you kidding?

Turning the show from a solo into a team effort, and making the characters young and good-looking, were also mistakes. Check it out when Carl, Perri and Jain are together. You'd swear you're really watching Clark, Lois and Jimmy.

What's missing most is that Kolchak has no one to fight against. This Vincenzo is only too willing to go along with Carl. The authorities may suspect him of murder, but they're not attempting to suppress his stories. Heck, he's suppressing himself! Consequently, a huge portion of the conflict is gone.

I wanted to like this show so much, I really did. But it's more X Files than Night Stalker. The true test is: if you took the name off the show, and changed the name of the Kolchak and Vincenzo characters, would anybody recognize the source? The answer: probably not. Beyond the concept of a reporter investigating supernatural stories, this series bears no resemblence to the original.

10/02/2005 07:32:00 PM  

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