|Night Stalker: The Complete Series (2005)
Starring: Stuart Townsend, Gabrielle Union, Eric Jungmann, Cotter Smith
“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” is fondly remembered as one of the great cult series of the 1970s. Rumpled reporter Carl Kolchak, played memorably by the late Darren McGavin, was constantly wandering about the streets of Chicago, getting in the face of all manner of public officials while trying to prove the existence of supernatural entities like vampires or werewolves. It was a show that so captured the heart and mind of one Chris Carter that he went on to create a series of his own to pay tribute to some of his favorite parts of Kolchak’s world: “The X-Files.”
It’s no surprise that someone would want to try and redo “The Night Stalker” for a new generation; indeed, it’s almost inevitable. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of the show’s executive producer, Frank Spotnitz, the result is something that bears so little similarity to the original that it would’ve been served better to change the name altogether.
On the surface, it may seem as though nothing’s different. After all, the lead character’s name is still Carl Kolchak – now played by Stuart Townsend (“Queen of the Damned,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) – and he’s still a newspaper reporter with a tendency to readily believe in things that others easily dismiss. The problem is that the dynamic has changed. Before, Kolchak was a one-man reporting machine, a loner who did everything on his own. Now, he’s got a fellow reporter, played by Gabrielle Union (“The Honeymooners,” “Breakin’ All the Rules”), who plays the skeptic at every turn, as well a photographer (Eric Jungmann) who shoots his stories. What’s that? You say the idea of a skeptic riding sidesaddle with someone who’s a true believer in the supernatural and the bizarre has been done before? Of course it has. There’s no avoiding the obvious Mulder/Scully comparison, but it’s really driven home by the fact that Spotnitz was a co-producer on “The X-Files.” Another odd choice to the series is to create a back story for Kolchak which involves his wife having been killed under odd circumstances, leading a federal agent to be on his case on a regular basis.
You can understand why a network would look at the original “Night Stalker” concept and say, “Well, we really need to do something to make this show work for today’s audiences,” but the end result avoids the dark humor of the original in favor of deadly seriousness. Additionally, Townsend doesn’t have any particular charm in the lead role; Union’s the one who has more charisma…which is all fine and well, but it ain’t supposed to be about her character.
Taken outside of the original series – as the majority of viewers took it, of course – “Night Stalker” is a decent enough crime drama with sci-fi overtones. The DVD includes four episodes that never aired on ABC, deleted scenes, audio commentary from Spotnitz and a featurette about the show, as well as a DVD-ROM feature which allows you to read scripts for episodes that were never produced. It’s fair to say that the show never had a chance to breathe on its own, but let’s face it: if you’re going to revive a show and use elements from its original incarnation, there’s no way you can escape from comparisons to that incarnation…and the elements didn’t add up to something that deserved to be called “Night Stalker.”