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ABC’s ‘Night Stalker’ makeover includes strong “X-Files” flavor

Night Stalker

7 out of 10
Night Stalker
(ABC, Thursdays 9/8c p.m.)

Premise: In this re-imagining of the 1970s classic, journalist Kolchak investigates and reports on not-so-run-of-the-mill crimes.

As you may know, the 1990s FOX hit science fiction series X-Files was loosely based on a failed 1974 series called, Kolchak: The Night Stalker which only ran for one season.

Last year Frank Spotnitz, the Emmy-nominated writer and producer of the X-Files convinced ABC network officials to re-make the failed 1970s series for a modern audience. This is not unprecedented. The Sci Fi channel remade the failed 1970s series Battlestar Galactica for a modern audience and achieved critical and ratings success.

There are quite a few drastic changes between the original Kolchak and the new Night Stalker. Gone are the gritty Chicago locations, the lone wolf mentality the 50-something almost-washed-up antihero and the slow, thoughtful pace of the original.

Those have been traded in for the seamier side of Southern California, a 20-something pretty boy with a reluctant partner (or two), and the fast pace and quick editing that modern audiences apparently require.

For those who remember the original or watched its reruns on the Trio or Sci Fi channels in recent years, the first Kolchak was a thoughtful, sometimes pondering potboiler with a healthy influence from both H.P. Lovecraft and 1970s pop cultural camp humor.

The new series is also a product of its time. Today’s Night Stalker continues the Lovecraftian practice of the original where merely scratching the surface of the obvious uncovers a hidden, darker influence on today’s evils. But adds in the post 9-11 seriousness that has come to mark most modern American drama.

Furthermore, Spotnitz was obviously still in X-Files mode when he created this update of the series. In most of the scenes, the new Kolchak approaches most situations exactly like Mulder would. And the newly added character of “Perri Reed” is just as doubting and just as intelligent and witty and beautiful as Scully ever was.

The Cast

The Character of Carl Kolchak has Irish 32-year-old actor Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Queen of the Damned) reprising the role made immortal among cult fans by the gruff Darren McGavin (who was 52 when he played the character in 1974).

Physically, Townsend has a waifish, Johnny Depp-like look and feel to him. He is not physically intimidating, but projects an air of danger or possibility. This is probably why he tends to land vampire roles in films.

Speaking with a perfected American accent, Townsend plays Kolchak as a scrappy optimistic who occasionally reveals hints of his painful past.

Townsend’s character is unwillingly partnered with “Perri Reed,” as played by American actress Gabrielle Union (City of Angels, Star Trek: DS9).

If you do a stylistic comparison between X-Files and Night Stalker, Union’s “Reed” looks, dresses and talks like an African American “Dana Scully.” But somehow it works since Union does it so well – and in a way that does not look or feel derivative to audience.

The Competition

So, we have a nicely-remade and very well-written series with capable and attractive actors. There is one big problem.

ABC scheduled Night Stalker to air on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. where it faces competition from ratings juggernauts, CSI and The Apprentice. Those two series are at their creative peak and steal so much of the Thursday night viewing audience; hardly any show could stand up to their competition.

Unless ABC moves the show to a new day or time, Don’t be surprised if the new Night Stalker has a shorter lifespan than the original series and its 20-episode run.

Overall: 7 out of 10
V-Chip Rating: TV-14 LV
Genre: Fantasy
Sex: Adult situations.
Violence: Realistic gore, blood. Violent deaths.
Special Effects: Very well done.
Eye Candy: The lead male and female are attractive.

Stuart Townsend … Carl Kolchak
Gabrielle Union … Perri Reed

David Speakman

David Speakman has spent more than two decades as a writer/editor, photographer, graphic designer and manager of creative teams in broadcast, print and the Internet. His education is in journalism, graphic design, organizational communication and law.
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