"Night Stalker" appears bound for cult status -- the "Boomtown" of 2005. By making two newspaper reporters the focus, crimes are allowed to lie unsolved and fester, haunting the principals while they fight their personal battles. Positioned smartly, it should hold on to a considerable chunk of the "Alias" audience.

An inventive show with not particularly likable characters, “Night Stalker” appears bound for cult status — the “Boomtown” of 2005. It takes elements of the “The X-Files” and traditional crime dramas and switches the center of activity to a newsroom from the usual squad room. By making two newspaper reporters the focus, crimes are allowed to lie unsolved and fester, haunting the principals while they fight their personal battles. Positioned smartly, it should hold on to a considerable chunk of the “Alias” audience.

Updating of ABC’s 1974-75 Darrin McGavin skein “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” is a scary piece of television. Pilot concerns an otherworldly force that is killing, kidnapping and maiming people, especially pregnant women, and leaving a scar on the wrists of victims. The cops want to blame a coyote, but Carl Kolchak (Stuart Townsend), a know-it-all crime reporter who has just landed at the Los Angeles Beacon after a five-year award-winning career in Las Vegas, knows they’re wrong. A similar force killed his wife on a stretch of desert highway. Her death, too, remains an unsolved crime, and a Vegas detective is still looking to pin a murder charge on the reporter.

The gimmick here, or the conceit that distinguishes “Night Stalker” from others on the crime beat, is that Kolchak doesn’t buy the cops’ presentation of facts, usually figuring they are involved in a cover-up. Pilot takes Kolchak and the Beacon’s senior crime reporter, Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union), on a wild goose chase through a new subdivision, a seedy motel and a drive-in cave where a kidnapped girl is found alive. (Yeah, it’s a stretch).

Townsend is comfortable in Kolchak’s shoes, which greatly helps “Stalker” coming out of the blocks, and he acts self-assured but never cocky. That Kolchak and his conflicts with Reed are believable will help hold an audience as cases turn weirder and weirder. Union spends most of the pilot fighting for her turf and digging up info on her new colleague; as in the best “Law & Order” episodes, there is no sexual tension getting in the way of two people doing a job.

Skein lacks the flavor of the original and would have worked better under a different title. Not that ABC is looking for fans from the original run — that would send the demographics sky high — but there’s an audience looking for a crusty but likeable Kolchak.

Voiceover, limited to the opening and closing, is Kolchak pontificating about the types of stories he seeks out. It helps set the scene, but it gets a bit annoying as his key words — “answers,” “death,” “suffering,” “horrors,” etc. — appear on the screen as Michael Wandmacher’s affecting score veers into Philip Glass minimalist territory.

Night Stalker

ABC, Thurs. Sept. 29, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Big Light Prods. in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Frank Spotnitz, Daniel Sackheim; co-executive producers, Michelle MacLaren (pilot), John P. Kousakis (series); producer, Lori-Etta Taub; director, Sackheim; writer, Spotnitz.

Crew

Camera, Clark Mathis; editors, Christopher H. Nelson, Christopher Cooke; music, Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Waldemar Kalonowski; casting, Mia Levinson. Running Time: 60 MIN.

Cast

Carl Kolchak - Stuart Townsend Perri Reed - Gabrielle Union Jain McManus - Eric Jungmann Tony Vincenzo - Cotter Smith
With: Sarah LaFleur, Ele Keats, Susan Misner, David Denman, Clay Wilcox, John Pyper-Ferguson.
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