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Undead Pretender

I've got a confession to make: I'm a longtime fan of The Pretender, a series repeatedly and mercilessly ridiculed on this site. A full eight months after NBC pulled the plug on one of the most intelligently written and addictive shows ever to get its ratings ass kicked regularly by the likes of Walker, Texas Ranger, we're finally going to get some TV closure. "We" being myself and the thousands of fans (remember, folks, they're fans, not geeks) who bombarded NBC, producers at Twentieth Century Fox and, finally, TNT, with e-mails to "save The Pretender!" Not nearly as many Internet activists rallied for The Pretender as for the just-resurrected La Femme Nikita, but then again, Michael T. Weiss is no Peta Wilson, no matter how much eyeliner he uses.

Yes, that's right: Next week TNT will air the cliffhanger-resolving cable capper to the series' final regular episode, on Monday, Jan. 22 at 6 and 8 p.m.

TNT has put more promotional muscle behind "The Pretender 2001" than NBC did during the series' entire four-year run, even going so far as to sacrifice a night of WCW Monday Nitro rasslin' for the movie and nine-episode "Countdown to The Pretender Marathon" leading into the movie's premiere. The countdown is a refresher on the final season of the series, but the two-hour "Pretender 2001" wastes scant minutes recapping that and the entire premise of the show for newbies. Yes, even with Pretender reruns now in heavy syndication and on TNT every day, there are still some newbies out there. Whaddya got, jobs and lives or something?

Pretender 101: Child genius Jarod (Weiss) is taken from his parents in the early '60s by The Centre, a deep-pockets think tank that sells ideas--mostly of the evil, killin' variety--to the highest global bidders. Under the care of company psychiatrist Sydney (Patrick Bauchau), Jarod is isolated from the world as he uses his computer-like gray matter to devise concepts he believes will be used to help people. Surprise: The Centre takes all his ideas and modifies them into the evil, killin' variety. At the age of 30, Jarod finally decides he's tired of living like a hamster and escapes into the world he's never known--like a grad student, but with useful skills.

Once out, Jarod follows in the footsteps of the Incredible Hulk and the Fugitive and helps Downtrodden Good People on a weekly basis, using his brainiac abilities to "pretend" to be anyone and anything--a doctor, a cop, a race car driver, an FBI agent, a male gigolo (!), you name it, while staying one step ahead of The Centre.

Jarod's a good-natured sort, but has a psychotic streak that surfaces at the end of nearly every episode, where he's inevitably hanging that week's Designated Bad Guy out a window or over a vat of acid and haranguing him about the nasty things he did to that week's Designated Victim. Jarod also seems to be wearing that aforementioned eyeliner at all times.

Simplistic morality plays dropped in the middle of a thickly woven plot, however, do not a cool series make. This is where The Centre's Miss Parker (Andrea Parker, coincidentally) comes in. Possibly the sexiest TV ball-breaker ever, Miss Parker's icy focus and sleek 'n' short wardrobe have made her as popular as the Pretender himself. Never mind that she, Sydney and Broots (Jon Gries) have had nearly five years to catch a fairly identifiable runaway--she looks faaabulous.

What does "The Pretender 2001" bring to the show's Byzantine conspiracy buffet? Too many twists to list without blowing several surprises for the faithful, but, needless to say, Jarod and Miss Parker survive the subway explosion of the series' finale, and the movie brings up as many questions as it answers leaving things wide open for the in-the-works TNT sequels. Watch for Jarod's never-before-chronicled introduction to and escape from The Centre (he wasn't alone), psychic powers for Parker (who looks as good here as Weiss looks disturbingly aged--has it only been eight months?) and a comically bizarre thumb transplant (one for the fans).

In all, "The Pretender 2001" meets--and, in a few instances, surpasses--the knucklehead noir standard set by the series. And could fans of The Pretender really expect to get anything more?


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