[07/19/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Night Stalker" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Thursdays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)

The network's description: "There are things in the dark, things adults deny but children are right to fear� When a pregnant woman is snatched from her home, the shocked citizens of L.A. believe it�s an act of domestic violence. But crime reporter Carl Kolchak suspects that the truth is far more complicated. That�s because 18 months ago Kolchak�s wife was killed in a bizarre fashion and he has been the FBI�s no. 1 suspect ever since. Kolchak's determination to find the truth behind his wife's mysterious murder has led him to investigate other crimes that seem to have some kind of supernatural component. But he's trying to piece together a puzzle that keeps changing shape. Who or what is committing these crimes? How are they all related? And why do some victims end up with a strange red mark on their hands in the shape of a snake? With sidekick Perri Reed, a sexy if skeptical fellow reporter in tow, Kolchak will go to any lengths to answer these questions. But when he does discover the truth � will anyone believe him?"

What did they leave out: Fans of the original 1970s "Night Stalker" will be thrilled to see a brief homage to the Darren McGavin series however there's no connection (implicit or otherwise) between the shows.

The plot in a nutshell: The abduction of a pregnant woman draws the attention of the L.A. Beacon's newest investigative reporter: Carl Kolchak (Stuart Townsend), a charming albeit mysterious man who spends his nights driving around L.A. listening to the police radio (or "stalking" as he puts it in the show's narration). At the crime scene he butts heads with Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union), the Beacon's senior investigative reporter, and photographer Jain McManus (Eric Jungmann), who insist the story is theirs. It seems everyone is quick to finger the woman's husband who claims he was heading off to work at the time. But Carl (and the audience, since we see the woman get dragged away by some sort of dog-beast creature in the teaser) thinks there's something more to it and launches his own investigation. From here it plays out more or less how you'd expect: Carl eventually gains the tentative trust of Perri and Jain and the trio stumble upon various clues that point them in the more supernatural direction. But that trust is shattered when Perri learns Carl's secret (which ABC surprisingly spills above in the PR so I won't hide it here): he was the prime suspect in his wife's murder, who died in a similarly mysterious fashion 18 months ago. A brief stop in the pokey later, Carl fesses up to Perri what's really going on and how he came to be at the Beacon (which I will hide here). With her trust regained, Carl and co. head off to find the girl.

What works: From a technical standpoint, the show looks absolutely amazing. Director Dan Sackheim does some breathtaking work here as even its most pretentious quality (words randomly appear onscreen during Carl's narration like some sort of car commercial or something) works on every level. L.A. simply hasn't looked this good on TV before. Equally as impressive is Stuart Townsend, who makes the prototypical gravel-voiced loner act work without feeling clich�d with Union, Jungmann and Cotter Smith (as their boss at the Beacon) all turning in fine work. (I know there was a "they made Starbuck a girl!"-type reaction to Townsend's casting, so put me in the pleasantly surprised camp after watching the pilot.)

What doesn't: This is all stuff we've seen before - from the original "Night Stalker" right up through "The X-Files." And like the latter series, the show has the annoying habit of talking about everything in vague concepts ("the night," "the dark," etc.) when as reporters you'd think they'd be a little more specific. Even when confronted with the dog-beast thingys, they say frustratingly non-descriptive declaratives like "did you see that thing?!" and "what was that!" We get it - it's all out there and mysterious, but throw us a bone once in a while okay? Nevertheless, I must confess there's a genuinely intoxicating feel to Sackheim's directing and Frank Spotnitz's script. The closing moments especially just feel new and fresh, despite being filled things we've see beaten to death by "The X-Files" and its imitators in recent years.

The challenges ahead: Will ABC stick with "Night Stalker" despite its daunting competition on Thursday nights? And will "Alias" viewers really stick around for this type of show? We'll know for sure this fall on ABC.

  [july 2005]  


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