The Pretender: The Complete First Season Review
"There are extraordinary individuals among us known as PRETENDERS. Geniuses with the ability to insinuate themselves into any walk of life, to literally become anyone. In 1963, a corporation known as the Centre isolated a young Pretender named Jarod and exploited his genius for their research. Then one day, their Pretender ran away..."
As much as I’d like to have opened this review without stealing the concept blurb from the start of the show, the above sums it up so well I felt it deserved its place in the limelight. The Pretender makes no fuss about being rather absurd, it invites the audience instead to buy into the premise and enjoy the ride. Jarod is always at the centre of the show - a gifted child plucked away from any semblance of normal family life and instead made to run through a series of intense simulations, some designed to test and develop his abilities, others to solve specific research problems for outside interests.
As an adult, however, Jarod begins to suspect the motives of 'The Centre', the corporation that has raised him since childhood to perform their tasks. Discovering that data from his simulations have caused many deaths (one of the major clients of the company being the US military, for example), he escapes from The Centre, and starts to give back to society on a case-by-case basis. Insinuating himself into a multitude of professions and workplaces, Jarod (in the terms of another popular show) ‘puts right what once went wrong’... though without the benefits of time travel, Jarod is left to seek more concrete revenge on wrongdoers. It’s this dark strand that sets the show apart from Quantum Leap; Jarod’s ethicality is certainly more blurred (and he’s a little more alien in his genius) than Sam Beckett could ever be.
The Centre’s chase to find Jarod accompanies him directly onto centre stage. His principal pursuers are Miss Parker (Andrea Parker), a childhood friend whose father is high up in The Centre, Sydney (Patrick Bauchau), Jarod’s close friend and Administrator of Simulations, and Broots (Jon Gries) – a computer whiz who’s generally a bit nervous (as computer whizzkids often seem to be in TV shows). The threesome make for an unlikely team and both Sydney and Miss Parker have answers of their own they are seeking – answers that become more pressing as this series progresses.
The Pretender is an interesting mix of a television show. Its nature starts off very episodic, with a ‘pretend’ a week, in which Jarod takes on a certain career and generally uses his position to seek out a wrongdoer against whom to take vengeance. Being a good American TV show, Jarod isn’t particularly evil in his revenge, but he does push people right to the edge to gain confessions and to help them experience how their ‘victims’ must have felt. Jarod’s skill, lest we forget, is his ability to put himself in others’ positions – and he often helps others to do the same by engineering events so that they will go through exactly what they forced on someone else.
However, that’s not really enough to sustain the show. After a few episodes the formula is set and although it does vary a bit in this first season, it’s not really enough to consider it non-formulaic in its main storylines. Fortunately the show is, however, made more engaging by the inclusion of meta-plots. Sydney, Miss Parker and Jarod all have family troubles and family secrets that they need to get to the bottom of. By drip-feeding clues to the audience as well as to the characters, the characters become better-grounded and our sympathies can bounce from one to the other. And so, by the end of this opening season, we do care about the people we’re watching... and we also want to know more about The Centre and what they’re up to.
So for me The Pretender worked quite well, albeit with a shaky start which made me doubt early on whether I would actually enjoy the show. It’s definitely no Quantum Leap, though it obviously owes that show the most in terms of its heritage. The cast work well together, Peter Weiss (Days of Our Lives, Freeway) lending a certain scary quality to Jarod that doesn’t make him your standard good-looking male lead. Andrea Parker (Less than Perfect, JAG) also plays her part well – part bitch, part seeker for the truth, and never willing to admit she isn’t in charge. And, yes, they put her in a lot of short skirts, for anyone interested. There’s never any doubt Patrick Bauchau (Carnivàle, Ray) would do well in a role like this - gruff but friendly - and he plays Sydney as admirably as he does all his roles. But more importantly, there's an excellent group dynamic amongst the three. It seems like they could have once been working together even though now pitted against each other, and it’s the quality of the cast that also helps to add a better finish to this series. In worse hands it could have come across quite tepid, but they raise it to being entirely watchable.
The Pretender has a fair fan following, and I suppose not without reason. I’d not seen it at all until the review copy, and have enjoyed my experience with Jarod and his pursuers. Obviously though, this is the initial series, and as such there are a few hiccoughs and bumps along the way – stories that seem even less plausible than others, Jarod saving the poor little child again and again, etc. But as the sub-plots and meta-plots kick in, the series gains in leaps and bounds until by the end it’s a case of not wanting to take a break between episodes – just as it should be!
We’re introduced to Miss Parker and Sydney discovering they’ve just missed Jarod on a tanker in Alaska and they start the search for him that is to continue through the series. Jarod is meanwhile posing as a doctor to try and uncover a case of medical negligence.
2: 'Every Picture Tells A Story'
Jarod’s search for the truth takes him to employment in the Coast Guard, to find out what happened to a man the Coast Guard had failed to get to in time.
Skyvionics comes under Jarod’s cold stare this week, trying to work out why a test pilot died while working for the company. Miss Parker and Sydney remain on his trail while he befriends a conspiracy theorist. The first mention of the sinister Mr Raines comes in this episode.
4: 'Curious Jarod'
Heading to Las Vegas, Jarod takes a job as Head of Security for a casino, which inevitably assists in seeking out some other wrongdoer.
5: 'The Paper Clock'
Sydney negotiates with The Centre to trade information with Jarod in return for the discs of simulations. Meanwhile Jarod plays at being a lawyer.
6: 'To Serve and Protect'
Staying with the legal feel, this episode sees Jarod as a police officer. He even manages to get Miss Parker sent to jail briefly, during which time he looks for some more information about his own mother.
7: 'A Virus Among Us'
After leaving a position as a High School teacher, Jarod heads off to work as a virologist, looking for information about a missing virologist that worked in the same labs. Jarod also has a secret tryst with Sydney.
8: 'Not Even A Mouse'
With a Christmas theme in play, Jarod investigates the mystery behind the death of a homeless man called ‘Christmas George’, while Miss Parker contemplates a Christmas with her father.
Miss Parker gets to learn something of her mother from Jarod of all people! Not content with just furnishing this information, he also takes a job as a skydiving instructor investigating another unjust death.
10: 'The Better Part Of Valor'
Jarod takes up yet another uniform to look into a death that shouldn’t have happened. This episode sees Jarod: the Firefighter.
11: 'Potato Head Blues (a.k.a. Bomb Squad)'
In quite a chilling episode, as these things go, Jarod pretends to be a bomb squad member, searching for a ‘unabomber’-type character. Mr Raines is put in charge of finding The Centre person leaking info to Jarod; Broots, Miss Parker and Sydney are all under scrutiny.
12: 'Prison Story'
As a prison guard Jarod shows much more humanity than his peers as he struggles to prove a death row inmate is innocent.
13: 'Bazooka Jarod'
Back in the Services again, Jarod this time takes a position in the Navy – his credentials are under scrutiny but he holds up well. Miss Parker starts to look at clues about her mother’s role in saving some children.
14: 'Ranger Jarod'
We learn that Miss Parker had a definite thing for Jarod when they were both kids – which is a nice background touch considering the main feature of this episode is Jarod falling for his hiking partner while on a search-and-rescue mission.
Sydney and Miss Parker find themselves in a condemned building during their hunt for Jarod. Their prey, meanwhile, has been masquerading as a TV news cameraman to uncover more mischief and misadventure.
16: 'Under The Reds'
Jarod starts life as a paramedic, while investigating a co-worker, but he’s also subject to an extremely annoying tax man who keeps trying to dig up some dirt on Jarod. Sydney absconds and holes up with his twin brother Jacob, and Miss Parker now has to find both Sydney AND Jarod.
Jarod fights his way through a hurricane to avenge the deaths of the parents of a refugee. He fails to realise Miss Parker would actually follow him through a hurricane and things just don’t go according to plan in any way.
18: 'Unhappy Landings'
As a US Marshall trying to proect a witness Jarod finds himself not seeking revenge. Sydney seeks help for his feelings of anger towards Mr Raines while Broots in placed in charge of digging up more information of Miss Parker’s mother.
19: 'Jarod's Honor'
Unexpectedly, Jarod takes on the role of a hitman while trying to find out the source of an email promising him some new information. Sydney and Miss Parker attend a Twins Convention together, while Broots covers for them.
20: 'Baby Love'
After narrowly escaping Miss Parker, Jarod finds a baby in a dumpster and he takes the child and looks after it while trying to locate its parents. Miss Parker, Sydney and Broots continue to work on clues Jarod has provided.
21: 'The Dragon House (1)'
Jarod becomes an FBI Agent once he learns that another pretender, Kyle, is on the run from the law. Some interesting information about Kyle emerges in the episode which also impacts quite strongly on Jarod. Angelo is recruited by Miss Parker and Sydney to go through Jarod’s red notebooks.
22: 'The Dragon House (2)'
Jarod learns more about his family and decides it’s time to return to The Centre to free Kyle. Miss Parker’s attention also focuses on Kyle, believing he might be the key in learning more about her mother. Finally, when Jarod gets the chance to reunite with his family, The Centre feel the need to try and stop him – of course.
This TV show, as you might expect, is presented in its original ratio, 4:3. The picture quality is fitting of such a recent show with actually a very nice transfer. Colours are good throughout as is definition. There’s a bit of grain here and there but some more worrying edge enhancement which can be quite obvious at times, even if you don’t generally notice these things. But overall, it’s fine for what it is.
The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround in English, Spanish and French. Dialogue and background music are very clearly counterbalanced, with neither encroaching on the other. There’s no noticeable hiss and the speakers get a decent enough workout considering this isn’t a 5.1 track.
Extras, Packaging & Menus
The season boxset is remarkably thin. It features 3 DVD-14s and 1 DVD-10 packed into 2 slim disc cases in a cardboard box surround. The package in its entirety takes up the same space as one Amaray case. How have they managed that for a 22-episode series with some extras? Well, they’ve packed the content onto both sides of the discs. I’m not too sure about that as a basic principle – not too big a fan of flippers out of sheer laziness if nothing else… but it doesn’t seem to have damaged the quality much.
Menus are fairly unremarkable affairs, with the annoying thing I always associate with The X-Files (probably unfairly) of making you not only select the episode you want, but then select ‘play’ from the sub-menu. Actually, this seems fairly standard on Fox TV releases if I cast my thoughts back, so I’ll just blame them for it. There’s also no ‘play all’ option on any of the discs.
The extras are mostly made up of commentaries and a making of featurette that is split across three discs. There’s commentaries on the pilot episode and also on the final episodes of the season. They’re not all that informative but they do add the odd piece of information – like Jarod originally being a bit darker. Generally self-congratulatory, they’re a welcome addition because it’s always good to get any kind of insight into the people behind a show.
The ‘making of’ featurette is around half an hour and split over the first 3 discs of the set. It’s split into 11 topics such as “Jarod”, “The Centre” and how the show began. It’s again, interesting to gain additional information from writers, producers, creators and cast – but there’s nothing earth-shattering here. It’s weird to have it split up though, and a pain if you tend to watch the extras as a separate entity, because it means putting in 3 discs again, instead of the convention we’ve become accustomed to – putting in the last disc to get the extras.
The final extra included on this set is the TV spots – 5 promotional TV spots for the show, each between 20s and 1 min long.
The Pretender is a fairly interesting show with a bizarre premise that becomes easier and easier to get used to as you watch each episode. The first season introduces the characters and the premise well, and despite a few lazy episodes, this is a fun watch for anyone who enjoyed shows such as John Doe and Quantum Leap. Fox have done a good job of bringing the first season of The Pretender to DVD; just enough extras to show someone paid attention, decent picture and sound transfer and minimal, interesting packaging.