Seedy supernatural journalist Carl Kolchak first came to life in a 1972 TV movie called The Night Stalker. The clever tale of a reporter (crusty Darrin McGavin) hunting vampires in modern-day Vegas became the highest-rated TV movie to date. A sequel (The Night Strangler) was conjured up a year later, while the inevitable “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” TV series followed in 1974. Though the series never quite lived up to the potential of the movies, it left a lasting impression on early-'70s TV watchers, including “X-Files” writer Frank Spotnitz who, along with “X-Files” creator Chris Carter, drew significant inspiration from the old show. Carter and Spotnitz even recruited McGavin for a major guest spot on “X-Files.”
Now Spotnitz--either flush with nostalgia or desperate for ideas--is bringing Carl Kolchak back for a whole new generation of TV viewers.
ABC has added the new “Night Stalker” (pronoun deleted for hip efficiency) to its Thursday lineup. The revamped show stars Irish actor Stuart Townsend, who--aside from bedding Charlize Theron--has displayed little notable talent in films like Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Ditching the frumpy yet iconic straw hat and seersucker suit of the original series, this new version casts its hero as a brooding yet hunky young news stud who comes to work for a Los Angeles newspaper.
One of the reasons our hero is so brooding is that his young wife was murdered years earlier. A mysterious snake-shaped scar was left behind on her body. Though the police still think Kolchak is their No. 1 suspect, the intrepid writer believes his wife was killed through the actions of some monstrous, ill-defined supernatural conspiracy. (Nearly all unexplained deaths throughout the world, it seems, bear this mysterious scar.)
In the pilot episode, our hero is paired up with sexy fellow crime reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union, Bad Boys II), ensuring plenty of professional friction leading, assumedly, to romantic sparks. The two investigate a series of murders, which seem to involve some sort of werewolf. Sadly, the show is more interested in establishing an ongoing “mythology” than in presenting well-encapsulated stories. In fact, “Night Stalker”'s setup looks suspiciously similar to the murky, ill-defined conspiracy that dragged down failed “X-Files” spin-off “Millennium.” By the end of the first episode we discover that, um ... some unknown, animal-like creatures were maybe kidnapping children and unborn fetuses, perhaps, for purposes never stated or seen.
My sincere hope is that Spotnitz starts crafting some clearly written, self-contained scripts quickly. If every episode ends on such a frustratingly vague note, the show is dead in the water. To give credit where credit is due, the cast is better than expected and the atmosphere is appropriately creepy--though, it could easily be renamed “Kolchak: Chased by a Camera.” Enough with the tease, already. “Lost” can get away with it (for now), but “Night Stalker” and countless others cannot.