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20th Century Fox presents
The Pretender: The Complete First Season (1996-1997)

"I'm not gonna be your little science experiment anymore!"
- Jarrod (Michael T. Weiss)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: March 22, 2005

Stars: Michael T. Weiss, Andrea Parker, Patrick Bauchau, Jon Gries
Other Stars: Richard Marcus, Harve Presnell, Paul Dillon, Kim Myers
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for most television audiences)
Run Time: 16h:52m:00s
Release Date: March 22, 2005
UPC: 024543169277
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB+ B

DVD 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..."

This brief text introduction explains the premise of The Pretender, an ambitious series created by the team of Craig W. Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell (Cobra). Each tale follows the exploits of Jarod, child genius who was apprehended at a young age by The Centre—a mysterious corporation in Blue Cove, Delaware with definite military ties. Originally brought under their control in 1963, Jarod finally escaped when he realized that his "simulations" were being used for evil activities. Moving into the general populace for the first time as an adult, he acts as a Pretender and is capable of adapting to any occupation.

The Centre has commissioned three figures to capture Jarod—the lovely and stern-faced Miss Parker (Andrea Parker); Jarod's mentor Sydney (Patrick Bauchau), and the computer genius and socially inept Broots (Jon Gries). Miss Parker begins the season with contempt for Jarod and cares little if he's killed or captured, but her outlook becomes more complicated. Sydney cares for Jarod like a son and wants him to survive, but he must pursue him at the behest of his employer. Broots is brilliant and able to track Jarod but finds little enjoyment in working at the behest of the Centre. However, they force this easily intimidated guy to work countless hours to catch their Pretender.

Several key supporting characters also appear to shed light on the primary characters and to push them towards nabbing Jarod. Miss Parker receives orders from the mysterious Mr. Raines (Richard Marcus), a scary Centre dude sporting a full-time oxygen tank and a serious need to apprehend Jarod. Appearing first in the third episode Flyer, this recurring character makes nearly everyone tremble when he appears. Miss Parker's father (Harve Presnell) also has a high role at The Centre and may be involved in the difficulties of her childhood. Sydney feels guilty for the fate of his twin brother, who currently rests in a coma. His goal of helping to revive his sibling sometimes contradicts with the goals of The Centre. Another intriguing character is Angelo (Paul Dillon), a tormented guy whose mind has been drastically jumbled by the nasty Centre experiments. He presents a creepy alternative to Jarrod's fate and offers periodic assistance concerning his past.

The Pilot immediately places us into the story of Jarod's pursuit and includes many elements that would become series staples. Jarod "pretends" to be a doctor and also has brief stints as a firefighter and Wall Street trader. Each week, he also makes discoveries about the world that are commonplace to normal people. This episode has him learning the joys of ice cream and being slightly mystified by Wheel of Fortune. Jarod's last name changes with each position, and the name picked often relates to his occupation. He uses Russell this time, which references Steven Jay Russell, a famous real-life "pretender." Jarod places information about his work into red books that are discovered by Sydney and Miss Parker. His travels also bring him into contact with quirky people who end up helping Jarrod to escape. In this story, an elderly woman at the hospital repays his kindness by pushing Miss Parker off his scent.

A pivotal aspect of each tale is the flashback scene, a moment captured either on video or in Jarrod's mind from his childhood at the Centre. These moments occur in black-and-white and connect with the activities occurring in the present day. An especially intriguing aspect of these videos is the surprisingly malevolent presence of Sydney. During the current pursuit, he seems compassionate and his actions are understandable, but his younger self acts cruelly and with little apparent sympathy. Sydney's feelings of guilt and need for forgiveness from the adult Jarod become most evident in A Virus Among Us, where he actually arranges a secret meeting with his former charge. Famous European actor Patrick Bauchau does an excellent job as Sydney and generates considerable sympathy for this complex individual.

An episode that effectively conveys The Pretender's success is To Serve and Protect, a story that finds our hero "pretending" to be a police officer. Jarod's goal is two-fold: He aims to enact justice and discover the truth behind a past shooting while searching for the whereabouts of his mother. Placing his mother on the missing-persons wire will undoubtedly draw the attention of Miss Parker, so Jarod devises an ingenious solution to leave her occupied for 72 hours. He also discovers donuts and donut holes, which is fitting for a police officer. This clever and emotionally gripping tale represents just one of many standout entries during this consistent opening season. The action continues to build while Jarod discovers additional clues concerning his past. Events culminate in the stunning two-part finale The Dragon House, which is easily the year's best episode. It reveals key plot details and pushes the story forward into a much-awaited and more complex second season.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Pretender generally uses the typical interior sets of hospitals, hotels, airports, etc. that do not present major opportunities for visual invention. However, this full-frame transfer offers solid images that are generally free from any significant blemishes. Some grain does appear intermittently due to its television origins, and the picture didn't receive any major remastering. The overall picture is sharp enough to make viewing easy, but it's nothing spectacular.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: This release offers a solid 2.0-channel Dolby Surround transfer that is fairly typical of recent television releases. The dialogue is easily understandable and the effects resound sharply from the front speakers. The track's power is a bit limited, but it still helps to provide a solid presentation. Considering the reasonable purchase price and source material of this collection, this transfer performs admirably.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 252 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
0 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Series Creators Craig W. Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell on Pilot; Sickle, Mitchell, Director Fred Keller, and Actor Jon Gries on Dragon House, Parts 1 & 2
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The Pretender: The Complete First Season includes several commentaries and featurettes that provide an inside perspective and background details. The pilot includes a commentary from series co-creators Craig W. Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell, who offer some interesting material. NBC executives did not understand the concept and seemed likely to reject it, but they changed their mind when the show tested off the charts. Sickle and Mitchell speak quietly with a dry manner and don't convey as much detail as I would like, but their inclusion is worthwhile when compared to other television sets. The co-creators join Director Fred Keller and Jon Gries for a commentary on the season finale Dragon House, Parts 1 and 2. The extra speakers provide some worthy details concerning the series and this complex two-part conclusion.

This release also includes a three-part documentary covering the series' origins and the basic events of the first season. Spread across three discs, this feature runs about 30 minutes and includes interviews with the creators and nearly all the primary actors. Everyone expresses tremendous pride about the show and the comments are pretty fluffy, but they do offer some worthy details. The lone other extra is a collection of five television spots, which appear in their original full-frame format. All of them aired prior to the premiere, so they're designed to introduce the audience to The Pretender.

Although I'm not a major fan of splitting DVD collections into multiple sides of each disc, this set does provide easy-to-use, slim packaging that fits nicely into any shelving. It would have been helpful to offer a few more commentary tracks or a more extensive documentary, but this release does at least differ from the bare-bones nature of many recent television releases. Offered at an modest purchase price, this 21-episode collection should please The Pretender's numerous devoted fans.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The Pretender: The Complete First Season doesn't grab you immediate and takes a little while to start moving. I began my viewing with considerable skepticism, but it quickly dissipated as Jarod's fate became more engaging. The three lead actors each bring considerable talent to the table and develop their roles throughout the year. The overall result is slightly conventional, but it still attracts due to enjoyable stories and a powerful emotional arc. Michael T. Weiss makes Jarod's childlike qualities endearing and his intelligence believable, which leads to me to offer a solid recommendation.


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