‘The Pretender: Rebirth,” by Steven Long Mitchell & Craig W. Van Sickle

The Pretender: Rebirth

I was a huge fan of the old TV series, The Pretender, starring Michael T. Weiss. It was, I felt, a refreshing concept – on top of the old, familiar theme of the Imposter, one who “becomes” whatever he chooses to be and operates well enough to fool others, you have the theme of an adult male encountering the real world for the first time – childlishly delighted to discover the Three Stooges, or aerosol cheese, or Pez candy. The character of Jarod, a genius combining superior intelligence with naivety, was an invitation to us all to stop and appreciate the wonders that surround us. His quest to find his mother, from whom he’d been kidnapped by the sinister “Centre,” where he was raised as a guinea pig, reminded us of the importance of family.

But the show wasn’t well served by its production team. Each season, Jarod would discover a chain of clues leading to his true identity, and would follow them up, and then the next season that chain would be completely abandoned for another, frustrating the fans. The scripts began to lose track of the original series concept. The show died. There was an attempt to revive it on the TNT network, but that plot was another pointless detour, with uncalled-for mystical accretions.

So I was interested to see that the show’s original creators, Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle, had come out with a couple new Pretender books. The first is The Pretender: Rebirth. I read it with considerable enjoyment, though it’s flawed.

As in the TV version, Jarod, the Pretender, has escaped the Centre. Jarod is a rare genius, a young man with quick learning and empathy skills that allow him to “become” anything he chooses to be, with just a little research. Pursuing him are Miss Parker, sort of like Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel with a harder edge, and Sydney, the scientist who monitored Jarod through childhood, helped him develop his gifts, and became his father-figure.

It’s not enough for Jarod to search for his own origins. He also helps people whenever he can. Here Jarod is intrigued by a news story about a boy who disappeared in a river after an auto accident. Jarod doesn’t believe the boy is dead, and he has a strong suspicion where he is – or at least who can tell him where he is. All he needs to do is become a surgeon overnight, ingratiate himself with a prominent doctor with a grandiosity complex, and spring someone from a mental ward.

The Pretender: Rebirth provided a lot of the fun of the old series, and I enjoyed reading it. I was disappointed by a couple elements – one, the fact that this is a reboot, not a continuation, and second that the prose is weak.

I can understand rebooting the narrative – the series ran down so many rabbit trails that a lot of it can be jettisoned without regret. But there were plenty of great moments too, and I hate to see them undone. This way, however, allows them to make the technology current without explaining the long hiatus.

As for the quality of the prose, it might seem surprising that TV writers with a certain level of success can’t write novel-worthy English, but you have to remember the nature of a script. The only words from a script that viewers will ever hear are in the dialogue. Scene-setting and description are terse; they’re not the script writer’s department.

So, all in all, I enjoyed The Pretender: Rebirth, and I think you might have fun with it too. But don’t expect high quality prose. Interestingly, I thought I discerned some conservative thought-lines. For instance, we’re told that Jarod’s favorite news source is Instapundit. I’m going to read the second book.

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