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'The Pretender'

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 19, 1996

Impostor? No. Poseur? No. Plain old fake? No, no, no. He's a pretender. Or rather, "The Pretender," hero of NBC's new semi-sci-fi series, which normally will air Saturday nights at 9 but gets a special preview tonight at 10 on Channel 4.

"There are extraordinary individuals among us known as pretenders," says the solemn prologue, "geniuses with the ability to insinuate themselves into any walk of life, to literally become anyone." And to literally split infinitives.

The pretender in question is named Jarod and played sort of coquettishly by Michael T. Weiss. He has a wry smile bordering on a smirk as he pulls off his little deceptions and stays one step ahead of evil emissaries from the Centre, a think tank in Blue Cove, Del., that "isolated" Jarod as a child in 1963 and is very unhappy that he has escaped.

When we first encounter the pretender, he has just abandoned ship in Anchorage, having posed as the captain of a tanker. No, not the Exxon Valdez. Then he's off to New York for the rest of the hour, becoming a doctor at Queen of Angels Hospital. While there, he exposes fraud, performs an emergency tracheotomy, cures a lovable old Greek woman of constipation (yes, really) and helps a little orphan boy, crippled in a bungled operation, sue the hospital for malpractice.

"You're no doctor," says the Greek woman. "You are human being." Won't the doctors of America get a kick out of that one?

Then, to spoil the fun, up pop Patrick Bauchau, as the head of the Centre, and henchwoman Andrea Parker. Even though the Centre wants Jarod back as a valuable investment, she orders him shot on sight! This kid's a little overzealous about her job. The chase aspect, however, gives "Pretender" a portentous urgency so that our hero isn't just casually hopping from role to role. Also, he's on a lifelong mission to find his real parents, and so on and so forth.

Whether "The Pretender" will last enough weeks for all these things to happen remains to be seen. It's kind of a cute little novelty item, a cross between "Highway to Heaven" and "The Fugitive," and while it's basically easy to take, it's just as easy to avoid.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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