Before there was Lost (a character drama clouded in the aura of mystery) there was a show on NBC broadcast on Saturday nights titled The Pretender starring Michael T. Weiss, Andrea Parker, and Patrick Bauchau. Like Lost there was lots of intrigue and mystery with The Pretender (and like Lost most of those mysteries went unanswered by the time the show went off the air following its fourth season). Even so, the show had a compelling and satisfying overarching storyline throughout its run and yet was also able to re-invent itself from week-to-week, keeping things interesting, and allowing those casual fans the opportunity to watch the show without getting caught up in the often confusing back story.
For those that have never seen the show, The Pretender was essentially this generation's Quantum Leap, as the shows share a lot of similarities. For those that haven't seen Quantum Leap either, here's the basic rundown. Jared, played by Michael T. Weiss, was a child genius who is a "Pretender", which means he can basically become anybody he wants to be without much trouble. Think Catch Me If You Can. Lawyer, doctor, race-car driver, you name it, Jared can study and do it. When he was a child, Jared was stolen from his parents by a Delaware organization known only as "The Centre", which exploited his genius for their research. They had him run simulations and used the findings to fund terrorist attacks, murders, kidnappings, the whole nine yards. Eventually Jared (because, of course, he's a super-genius) found out The Centre was using his genius to harm people (it had been explained to him that his simulations were saving people) and he escaped, with the hopes of finding the family he never knew.
So the show basically went on for four seasons with Jared searching for his family while each week stopping to help those in need. He would use his "Pretender" skills to right wrongs (sound familiar Quantum Leap fans?) by assimilating himself as a doctor, forest ranger, business man (whatever was needed), uncover the truth behind a recent death, and force the perpetrator to confess to his or her crimes. The first few seasons also saw Jared assimilate into society by trying ice cream for the first time, and experience things the Centre shielded him from when he was a child. Jared, though, was always looking over his shoulder because Patrick Bauchau's Sydney (Jared's de facto father and genuinely good guy caught in an evil organization) and Andrea Parker's Ms. Parker, Centre employees, were chasing after Jared, always a step behind, trying to bring him back to the Centre. What made the show great was that while The Centre was evil, both Sydney and Ms. Parker were fully developed, complex characters, who you often felt sympathy for, despite their role chasing after the "good guy" in the show, Jared.
So why am I reminiscing tody about a show that has been off the air since 2000? Because tomorrow, on DVD, the two Pretender Movies are being released on DVD, The Pretender 2001 and Island of the Haunted.
See, after NBC canceled The Pretender in 2000, there were still a lot of loose ends to tie up (as there often are on canceled television shows) so TNT stepped up to the plate and financed two television movies to "wrap up" the series. These are those two telefilms and while they don't answer all the key questions (the producers have said they had a third film to truly wrap up the series planned, but they never receiving funding to make it) for any Pretender fan, they were certainly welcome in 2001 when they aired, and they now complement the rest of the seasons of the show already released on DVD.
It was an exciting show, and you always kept watching because you wanted to see if Jared would eventually be able to reunite with his family. The goings-on at The Centre were also prominently featured and were more than strange. There was always something more there than met the eye, but you never knew quite what it was. Like the mysteries behind Lost's island and numbers and Dharma Initiative, you kept watching because you wanted to know why the Centre truly was after Jared, what the true purpose of The Centre was, and of course, you wanted to know if Jared would find his family.
As much television as I watch now, and as much as I love a lot of the shows on TV now, I often miss some of these old, great shows, like The Pretender. Watching the DVDs as they came out made me appreciate the show even more the second time through, even more so than I did when I watched them back in high school when they first aired. I look forward to re-wacthing the movies as I continue to hold out hope that one day, that third movie will get made, and the story of Jared, Miss Parker, and the Centre will be fully told.