The Night Stalker - (SciFi Fridays 8PM)
by Daniel Sackheim (Executive Producer)
Review by Ernest Lilley
SciFi Channel Media ISBN/ITEM#: B000EOTV98
Date: 9/29/05 ABC - 7/28/06 SFC
List Price $29.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
I missed the new Night Stalker the first time around, but my TiVo snagged it when SciFi aired the pilot late this July. Now, I didn't have any real expectations for the series, since I knew that ABC had cut its run short after a show of poor ratings, and besides…they just weren't the folks I'd expect to do much with a retread of an old series. Especially one with cult appeal. Remakes are notoriously hard to pull off, though SciFi has done well with Battlestar Galactica, and the BBC's new Dr. Who was, to quote the Dr., "fantastic!"
So, starting out with fairly low expectations, I was pleasantly engaged by the pilot, in which Carl, a younger, smoother, and better heeled reporter (nicely played by Stuart Townsend) investigates a murder that bears a close resemblance to the one that unhinged his life in Las Vegas, where his wife was the victim and he wound up the prime suspect. Because the story he told was too unbelievable for the authorities to swallow.
Gone is the seedy office of old, though the series is young (in a dead sort of way) and Carl could always wind up there (again). Tony Vinchenzo (Cotter Smith) is a lean, successful editor this time around, but the friendship between the haunted night stalker and his editor endures. Gone is the nebbish reporter that Carl was always stealing assignments from, and in his place is the attractive Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) and her Jimmy Olsen sidekick, Jain McManus (Eric Jungmann). It's interesting that SciFi aired two shows, Eureka and Night Stalker, where the white male protagonist is put up against a black female foil, though they're only rerunning this one. Unfortunately for Eureka, which I like for a lot of other reasons, there's a lack of chemistry between the leads, despite their attempts to convince us otherwise. Fortunately for Night Stalker, there's chemistry here that you can't get out of a box. Interestingly, there's another resonance with a current project. The showdown with the unseen enemy turns out to be in a darkened cave, where unshown ghouls try to drag our friends off to a dark demise, which should seem familiar to anyone watching trailers for The Descent, due to open this week (Aug 4th).
In the fashion of modern series, like the X-Files, which was heavily influenced by the original series, there's a deeper story arc we briefly delve into. Evidentially Carl has been looking for answers to what happened on the dark road when his wife was killed and he's been finding a mysterious thread tying weird killings across the country together. A thread he's determined to unravel.
Though I missed the low budget look and the quirky sense of humor of the old Night Stalker, I really liked the cast they put together for this version. Stuart Townsend and Gabrielle Union have a nicely antagonistic relationship, while Jungman and Smith make good supporting players around them. A number of trademarks from the original survived, though made newer, not to their benefit. When Carl goes monster hunting, he does so with a collection of off the shelf items he drags out of his trunk, including cattle prods and an exterminator sized can of bug spray. Sadly the bug spray unnecessarily stretches tech credibility, as it somehow has the ability to trace the monsters to their lair and send Carl an Alert on his PDA. Sigh. Carl's car, a shiney new Mustang, has none of the charm the old ride had, but I guess ABC felt a need to offer sponsors something to show off.
The bottom line is that I liked the pilot well enough, though expect that the series got cancelled for good cause, never quite getting off the ground and trying to find a mass market audience. I'm really looking forward to seeing how its ratings fare on SciFi, where it's placed on Friday nights at 8pm. Not a bad slot, though the summer is not the best time to be on. If the show gets decent ratings, maybe SciFi will pick it up and run with it...they've done it before, and at this point they're showing a knack for respecting these projects enough to give them some space to grow. We'll see.
I thought at first that they had missed the chance to get Darren McGavin, the original Carl Kolchak, on the show. That saddened me, because he was a really likeable scoundrel, and it would have been nice to see him one more time. Especially since he died early this year, reportedly of natural causes. But it turns out that they did indeed get a walk on from the man in the rumpled suit. After a frame by frame investigation of the show, in which I tried to make any number of tired old men in dark suits turn into the Don Quixote of the original series, I finally found him, if only for a few seconds. There he was, twenty minutes in, standing in the middle of the newsroom, dapper in a cream suit, leaning up against a desk and smiling at some private joke. A perfect exit.