The Pretender: The Complete Second Season Review
Continuing directly on from where the last season left off, the second series of The Pretender continues to follow prodigy Jarod (Michael T Weiss) through a series of adventures of the 'helping to right a lingering injustice' variety while he endeavours to discover more about the real family he was taken from as a child. Jarod is an extraordinary man, his nascent childhood genius honed over the years of his confinement in order to turn him into a 'pretender' who can effortlessly put himself in someone else's situation and gauge how he would (or should) react under various circumstances. In 'The Centre' (the mysterious agency that abducted him for their own purposes), Jarod's talents were used to run thousands of 'simulations' (the results of which - as it later became apparent - were being sold to everyone from the military-industrial complex to even more dodgy 'clients')... but now that he's escaped their clutches, Jarod uses his amazing abilities to help people with few other allies.
While in its first season The Pretender concentrated mostly on establishing its weekly format (the 'take a new profession each week and help someone' aspect), this new series focuses more about its own mythology and we begin to learn a lot more about all the characters concerned. Jarod's feelings towards Sydney (his psychologist at The Centre, played by Patrick Bauchau) are investigated further and we get to see just how much of a paternal figure Sydney has became for Jarod. Miss Parker (Andrea Parker) has some serious family issues to deal with, from her father's disappearance to out-and-out attempts on his life. And Broots (Jon Gries) undergoes a custody battle for his daughter and then has to cope with working whilst preserving his family's safety.
Furthermore, The Centre's team dedicated to re-capturing Jarod (Miss Parker, Sydney and Broots) are exhaustively questioned about where their loyalties lie... and find new adversaries in the form of two new operatives - Mr Lyle (Jamie Denton) and Brigitte (Pamela Gidley) – appearing mysteriously on the scene and competing with them in the power structure of The Centre. So it's fair to say that there's almost as much attention focused on The Centre this season as there is on Jarod himself, which really helps to maintain audience interest in the show. Once we accept that Jarod can become anyone and can do pretty much anything (profession-wise, that is) and that he wants to help underdogs, then the formula can become a bit samey. However, when you mix it up with actual progress in his search for his family, and the parallel search for truth Miss Parker herself is pursuing – then it helps the series succeed in all sorts of unexpected ways.
The cast continue to grow in their roles and there's a decent amount of character development available to them. Everyone performs admirably (aside from a decidedly dodgy accent for Pamela Gidley's Brigitte) and I don't want to make the mistake of omitting Ryan Merriman from the praise this time around. He appears in the flashback videos as the young Jarod and he's got quite a task of being both a terrified child and a genius developing his 'pretender' skills. Jamie Denton plays Mr Lyle as delightfully slimey and when he does get the chance to bring a harder edge to the character, he does so well and believably. Another actor who deserevs kudos for his role in this season is Paul Dillon as Angelo – playing an empath with mental issues can't have been all that easy, and the emotional journey he has to make at the end of the series apparently even surprised the other cast members when they saw him work through it. Andrea Parker, Patrick Bauchau and Michael T Weiss, along with Jon Gries, are of course the regular core of the cast though and they've got their characters down perfectly by this series, so reactions and interactions work very well.
To be honest, I enjoyed the second season of The Pretender slightly more than the previous one. There's more of a dark undertone as we learn more about The Centre – and it's good to see the Lyle/Brigitte team arrive to work against Miss Parker and her 'friends'. There's enough humour to keep the show from being truly bleak, but it's enjoyable to see sinister undercurrents peeking through. Also, with the inclusion of more backstory and family history there's significantly more tension. On a week-by-week case, it's just not that exciting to see Jarod succeed over and over again, but adding a series story arc to the weekly stories really helped me to enjoy the show. As with many TV series, the action and tension both ratch up a notch towards the end of the season, and it really works well. On finishing this batch of episodes, I was quite sad that I couldn't move straight onto season 3 to see how the story develops further.
1: 'Back From The Dead Again'
We learn that Miss Parker's father has disappeared and has been replaced in the workplace by Mr Lyle, a slick-talking fairly young guy who is assisted by Brigitte. Both of them imply they'd be better at finding Jarod than Miss Parker's team. Meanwhile, Jarod is concerned over the lack of videos from the last three weeks before he escaped The Centre. Away from that central theme, Jarod takes on the identity of an anatomy professor, who helps locate a missing youngster.
2: 'Scott Free'
Jarod becomes a safecracker to help a father break out of a life of crime. Brigitte continues to pester Miss Parker while trying to take her place.
3: 'Over The Edge'
When a member of the emergency search and rescue team in Washington State supposedly attempts suicide, Jarod takes his place on the team and tries to reconcile the guy and his mother. Broots, Miss Parker and Sydney are all subjected to questioning at The Centre in an interrogation aimed at discovering who shot Mr Raines' oxygen tank towards the end of the previous season.
Jarod becomes a fashion photographer and helps to catch a stalker. He also helps Miss Parker glean some information about her mother.
5: 'Nip and Tuck'
Impersonating a plastic surgeon, Jarod discovers some unsavoury medical malpractice and uses his new skills to exact justice. Broots becomes obsessed by the feeling that someone is stalking him and Brigitte offers to help him, if he shops in Miss Parker for anything she does.
6: 'Past Sim'
When a key witness against a Yakuza boss is kidnapped, Jarod recognises the pattern as one of the old simulations he developed in The Centre. Wracked with guilt, he gets involved, impersonating a DA. Mr Lyle starts to get into trouble as he appears to be the one who's been making deals with the Yakuza.
7: 'Collateral Damage'
A young woman is petitioning for her father's name to be added to the War Memorial in Washington D.C. – but there seems some disagreement over whether he was a hero or a traitor. Jarod goes Special Forces to help out. Meanwhile, Broots recruits Miss Parker to babysit his daughter, Debbie, when no one else is available.
Sydney behaves against type and seeks vengeance for the death of his family. Meanwhile Jarod looks into chemical waste as a way to discover why a man was attempting suicide.
Jarod takes the role of a special effects coordinator and in this role is able to look at how a stuntman was seriously injured while filming a commercial. Jarod's also been leaving more clues for Miss Parker about her family, and she starts the search for a Dr Fenigor and a boy called Timmy.
This week Jarod drives in an Indy car race while finding out how a driver got involved in an accident that ended badly. Sydney runs to his brother's side after a strange dream.
As horrifying as this premise sounds, Jarod becomes a male escort and has a number of interesting assignments. The main focus of his new career is to show a housing developer the impact her plans will have on a poor neighbourhood.
12: 'Toy Surprise'
Jarod becomes an outdoor youth counsellor and helps a teenager whose friend has recently died. The main action of this episode is really back at The Centre though, when Jarod informs Miss Parker there's going to be an assassination attempt on her father. The script then goes a bit Die Hard as she only has 2 hours to stop any such attempt and is trapped in the lower levels of The Centre.
13: 'A Stand Up Guy'
Jarod poses as both an FBI agent and a master counterfeiter as he goes undercover to try and bust some local criminals in New York. Mr Lyle has resurfaced and Miss Parker's father is reassigned from tracking Jarod for a short period so she can take care of Mr Lyle. Sydney follows her all the way.
14: 'Amnesia (a.k.a. Unforgotten)'
Things go wrong for Jarod and he gets knocked out while trying to exact his own brand of justice. Rescued by the strange Argyle and his dog, Jarod suffers memory loss. Things get a bit more tricky when Jarod starts to remember who he is, and Argyle works out there may be money in locating Jarod. Back at The Centre our trio of Miss Parker, Sydney and Broots are put before a 'T-Board', interrogated to try and find out if any of them is helping Jarod and why they haven't managed to bring him in yet. Brigitte finally gets her chance to go pick up Jarod.
Jarod joins a SWAT team to find out how another member died in the line of duty. Sydney asks Broots to do some behind-the-scenes investigating, but is intercepted by Miss Parker who just has to get involved!
As a child psychologist, Jarod works on helping a child suffering in silence since witnessing the murder of a DEA agent. Back at The Centre, Mr Raines is in severe trouble.
Jarod gives up his flight ticket to a young man, with dire consequences when the plane crashes. So off Jarod sets to try and find out what caused the accident. Jarod helps his 'friends' at The Centre to learn more about Mr Lyle.
18: 'Red Rock Jarod'
Jarod is lured to a small town in Arizona where he finds himself in a bit of a predicament. Not much more to say about this episode without handing out plenty of spoilers – but again Miss Parker and Jarod are captured in the same frame.
Jarod gets involved in a kidnapping when the father of the abducted child ends up in the same hospital in which he's posing as a doctor. Miss Parker and crew get within spitting distance of catching Jarod, but Sydney gets in the way, causing a few ructions.
Miss Parker gets tricked into meeting Jarod at a bank where they witness Mr Fenigor doing his weekly banking. Unfortunately at the moment of realisation, the bank gets robbed and Jarod is trapped in a hostage situation. It doesn't take long for The Centre to find out!
When a clue leads Jarod to infertility clinic NuGenesis, he's closer than ever to learning about his parents and how he was taken by The Centre. He also learns The Centre is looking for a replacement Pretender. Sydney has acted the scientist and created a serum that can help Angelo's brain work clearly again, as long as he takes all the doses at the right times. Miss Parker learns more secrets about her family and confronts her father with things she's learned.
The Pretender is given an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer and overall looks pretty good. It's a recent show, so I'd expect a good transfer and that's what is presented here. Colours and definition are decent throughout with only a touch of pixilation or edge enhancement here or there. I suffered a few judders through my viewing, particularly towards the end of the series. But as other reviewers haven't noted any problems with the video quality, I tend to ascribe this to my DVD player.
The soundtrack here is all about the Dolby Surround, with a choice of English, Spanish or French. Dialogue is audible and clear throughout and the background noises and music don't get in the way of it at all. I noticed a few small dropouts here and there, but they didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the show.
Menus, Extras & Packaging
As with season 1 of the show, The Pretender: The Complete Second Season comes on four double-sided discs, in two slim Amaray cases with a cardboard surround keeping the set together. Yes, this means the discs are all flippers. It's a compact solution that doesn't appear to have damaged the quality of the audio or video, but I think I'm still biased against flipper discs from the olden days of DVDs!
Menus are static and fairly plain, and annoyingly you need to select an episode and then select 'play' to see each episode. There's no 'play all' function, which is probably a lot more visible when watching the series in a marathon scenario as I did. But generally I don't like to have this many click-throughs to get to where I want to be. But it works, and at least the episode sub-menus don't have summaries to spoil the action you're about to watch.
As for extras, two commentaries are provided, both for late episodes in the season. On 'Red Rock Jarod' those commenting are co-creators and executive producers, Craig W Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell and director Fred Keller. They're then joined by cast members Andrea Parker (Miss Parker) and Michael T Weiss (Jarod) for a commentary on 'Bloodlines'. These are fairly enjoyable to listen to but nothing really stellar, marred by some quiet moments and not overly enthralling anecdotes. Still, it's good to see commentaries included on these television boxsets.
Finally, there's a 'making of' featurette split across the first three 'discs' (i.e., both sides of disc 1 and the first side of disc 2). Overall it's a bit confusing to have it split this way, especially as there's a massive chance of listening to spoilers by watching them as you get to each feature. If it had been included at the end of the series boxset, it would have made a lot more sense and not given me as many hints as to what was going to happen as the show reached its climax. But aside from where it's situated, it's actually a rather good, solid extra. The cast and crew comments are interesting, funny and engaging and there's some good insights into the show and how it progressed through its second season with more of an emphasis on family than in the previous series.
The second series of The Pretender definitely builds and improves upon the foundation laid by the previous season. Character development is good and the show manages to cast off its formulaic feel for quite a few episodes. It's an enjoyable show which is starting to show its promise, and I look forward to subsequent seasons to see how it delivers.