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THE PRETENDER
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Michael T. Weiss, Andrea Parker, Patrick Bauchau
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  3 Part Making-Of, Selected Commentaries
Length:  1100 Minutes
Release Date:  March 22, 2005

Shows ***

Since airing in 1996, The Pretender is a series that has earned something of a cult following.  It seemed to appeal to science fiction fans, though it wasn't futuristic or addled with technology, to mystery fans who followed the unfolding yarns from week to week with anticipation, and to cop drama fans, who probably saw the show as the greatest chase series since The Fugitive.

It ran for four years and spawned a couple of made-for-TV movies, and one gets the sense that fans would eagerly eat up more if offered.  Now, with the release of the first full season of the show in a four disc set, they can re-experience how it all began...or newcomers can finally see for themselves what it was all about.

It involved the weekly adventures of a young man named Jarod (Weiss).  As a child, he was taken into custody by The Centre, because he had an extraordinary mental ability that went beyond what might be defined as genius.  He was a pretender, meaning he could completely immerse himself into the mindset of anyone else, and through books and other materials, learn how to assume their identity perfectly.  He could become a doctor, a lawyer, a test pilot, a card dealer...anything.

The Centre was using his ability to solve various problems, but as Jarod grew older, he realized his gifts weren't being used for good...the company was simply selling the information he accumulated to the highest bidder.  As the pilot episode begins, Jarod has fled from The Centre, and as a kind of penance, begins using his talent for pretending to help those in need and right some egregious wrongs.

The Centre, of course, wants him back.  It might seem hard to track a guy with chameleon-like ability to become anybody he needs to, but the company has their own secret weapon in Miss Parker (Parker...not hard to remember), a sultry femme fatale ruthless and uncompromising in her pursuit.

That's the basic framework of the show, but toward the end of the first season, the series became more solidified and slight less episodic, building upon a foundation of several intriguing premises.  For one, Jarod learns early in the season that the deceased couple he believed to be his parents were not his mom and dad, so part of his quest becomes to discover his own true identity.  We also learn of some of the history between him and Miss Parker...they were children together at The Centre, and as a result, she has some tragedy in her own past that slowly comes to life.  And finally, we learn that there's even more to The Centre than meets the eye, even to those who so loyally work for it.

As played by Michael T. Weiss, Jarod was an instantly appealing character, who mixed incredible intelligence with a childlike sense of wonder...after being shut away his entire life, he had many things to discover and take pleasure in, like ice cream and Oreo cookies.  His abilities as a pretender allowed him to have great empathy for those in need or in pain, especially children.  And his playful anti-authoritarian attitude cheered audiences...my favorite was in the second episode where The Centre traces his call only to find Jarod has scrambled and sent his phone signal bouncing all over the world...by the time they find the original source, they learn Jarod had been in the next room all along!

But even more appealing, at least to male fans, was Andrea Parker.  Her tough talk, ruthless ways, political incorrectness (mainly her constant smoking) and incredible beauty redefined sex appeal for TV audiences.  I'd wager a lot of us fellows wouldn't have minded being a victim of her grilling in some dark, damp room.  But she's more than a one-note character...as the series progresses, we learn that maybe all isn't right in her life as well, and that she may have been as victimized by The Centre as Jarod.

Rounding out the main cast for year one was Patrick Bauchau as Sydney, the man who was a kind of surrogate father figure for Jarod as he grew up at The Centre.  He is equally determined to bring his prize back into the fold, but moments on the phone between the frequently lonely Jarod and his one time mentor are sometimes quite moving.

Some of the gems among the first 22 episodes include "A Virus Among Us", where Jarod cleverly tricks Miss Parker into catching the flu (not that she gives up the cigarettes, mind you), "Not Even a Mouse", where even the bitter chase between pursuer and pretender pauses for a smile-inducing moment of good will between them at Christmas, "Baby Love", in which Jarod becomes the protector of an abandoned infant, "Keys", where Jarod and Miss Parker confront one another during a hurricane and he manages to help her unlock one of the secrets of her past, and the two part finale "The Dragon House", which pointed toward many big things in the future as Jarod seeks out another pretender and finally gets a solid lead on his real family.

The first year of The Pretender gave audiences a solid foundation and intriguing characters on which to build future dramas, and left them anxious for the further adventures of Jarod and Miss Parker...which, of course, we'll pick up on with the release of Season Two.

Video **

As with many television shows on DVD, The Pretender is watchable but unspectacular.  There's no sense of colors jumping out at you or detail levels impressing, and some of the show's darker scenes look a little grainy and soft.  Brightly lit scenes look better, which makes this presentation about par for the course.

Audio **

A 5.1 remix might have been interesting with this series, but all we get is the standard television stereo track...clear, but not a lot of dynamic punch, and not exactly enveloping.

Features **

The key extra is a making-of retrospective, which is divided into three parts over the course of the four disc set.  I'm not sure why this was the manner chosen for delivering this feature instead of one longer comprehensive piece, but the interviews with the creators and stars will probably please the fans.  In addition, there are selected episode commentaries with the creators, but not the stars.

Summary:

The Pretender was a multi-faceted slice of prime time entertainment that evolved from a simple yet intriguing premise into a weekly foray into humanitarianism, suspense, mystery and drama that kept fans clamoring for more.  With this season one set from Fox, new and old fans alike can re-experience how it all began.

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