There's been many shows over the years featuring a nomadic character who helps people as he goes about his journey, but THE PRETENDER is probably my favorite of the bunch. Whereas in other shows the character was always the same, this series added a twist: he was a genius with the ability to assume any profession he chose, from park ranger to FBI special agent. I'm surprised he never posed as an astronaut and went into space. Michael T. Weiss was terrific as the title character, Jarod, who helps right wrongs as he attempts to find the parents he was taken from as a child and continually eludes those chasing him from the mysterious organization from where he's escaped. Because of his ability, each episode was like an individual little movie, because he was someone different each week. And one of the things I liked was the way he would get revenge. Rather than just go for the person, he would slowly toy with them, taking his plan one step at a time. It was really fun to watch him play around with the person.
Sexy Andrea Parker played Miss. Parker (an amusing coincidence that she herself said was one main reasons she took the role), who was filled with utter determination to capture Jarod and return him to the Centre, despite the times he helped save her own life and was someone she knew as a child growing up in the Centre. He even got her to start questioning the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of her mother, whose killer has remained a mystery through four seasons and two TV movies. Patrick Bauchau was Sydney, one of the few people Jarod ever felt that he could trust, and a father figure to him. Sydney often seemed happy for Jarod that he was free of the Centre and able to experience life, and their phone conversations (when Jarod would call for advice or just to talk) were always very nice. The good supporting cast included Richard Marcus (appropriately evil as the nefarious Mr. Raines), Jon Gries as scardy cat computer whiz Broots, Jamie Denton as Parker's brother, Harve Presnell as Parker's father (though that later became debatable following events in the first TV movie), and one-time James Bond himself George Lazenby as Jarod's father, who disappeared from the show as mysteriously as he had appeared.
For three seasons, THE PRETENDER maintained a high quality of entertaining adventures and stories, with a good balance between the Jarod "pretending" stories and the Centre mythology sub-plots. But with the forth season, the show made the same mistake THE X-FILES made: it got too involved with itself. There was more and more focus on the internal conspiracies of the Centre instead of a focus on Jarod and his exploits. The show's mythology began to take over, and it seemed each week there was a new revelation about someone, like the writers couldn't make up their minds as to what they wanted to do. Thanks to this and a heavy dose of pre-emps, PRETENDER began to sag and was cancelled at the end of the season (just so NBC could carry XFL, and look how well that paid off).
But thankfully, some loose ends were tied up by TNT, who picked up the show for reruns and gave us two movies. The first three seasons were the best, and I hope some day the show is made available on DVD.