The Who, What, and Why
Yes, That’s what the title says-This is a column about something a hat watches. Well, for some it may as well be. The Fedora in said title is Tommy Hancock. An award winning writer, Tommy is partner in Pro Se Productions, a publishing house specializing in Genre Fiction and New Pulp. He is also an editor for various companies, has written articles for multiple locations, and is in the process of relaunching his own Book centered site, Bibliorati, in December.
You’ll notice there’s no fedora mentioned anywhere in Tommy’s name. The appellation of a hat applied to a person comes from the fact that, at least professionally, Tommy has rarely been seen without wearing a fedora. Not always the same one, although the brotherhood of hats has only had a few members, but usually always wearing one. On rare occasions two at the same time. The hat is so identified with Tommy that, indeed, many simply refer to him by the hat’s type-Fedora.
As to the What The Fedora Watches- Tommy is a fan/collector/devotee of all sorts of pop culture stuff, fandoms, media, etc. One such interest he has revolves around several shelves of DVDs that he has acquired over the years. A mixture of TV shows and movies, this collection holds both some variety, but also a clear indication of what Tommy enjoys genre wise. So, the what that will unfold in this column is quite literally Tommy’s thoughts/reviews/discussions of series and movies he is currently watching, all chosen by those who are friends with him/follow him on Facebook in regular sessions of PICK WHAT TOMMY WATCHES NEXT-The DVD Edition.
Now, finally the Why-Now a purveyor of snark might say, “Well, why not?”, and all though Tommy is considered one of the top suppliers of snark in the galaxy, that’s not exactly the answer. There’s not really a solution to this quandary, other than that Tommy enjoys exposing others to works they may not be aware of. He also finds a lot of fun in simply talking about things he likes, even when he doesn’t like a particular version of them that much. He’s also been told that his reviews/articles are interesting and people actually like reading them. That last point is probably up for great debate amongst people who don’t have anything better to do.
So, with all the ado out of the way, let’s get right to WHAT THE FEDORA WATCHES…
There are pretenders among us. Geniuses with the ability to be become anyone they want to be. In 1963, a corporation known as The Centre isolated a young pretender named Jarod and exploited his genius for their research.
Then, one day, their pretender ran away…
In 1996, a series debuted on NBC that both borrowed from programs that came before it and would lay groundwork for several series that came after it. Created by Craig W. Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell, The Pretender, opening with the stanzas above, focused on the escaped Pretender, Jarod with no known last name. This fact, along with several others centered around both Jarod’s lack of identity and what The Centre used and still needed Jarod for, would inform the series through its entire four season (and two television movies and two novels thus far) run.
In The Pretender, Jarod assumes not only a new identity, but a new job/skill set in each episode. This is the primary skill a Pretender has, an innate ability to not only absorb knowledge and learn at a tremendous speed, but also to almost seamlessly integrate himself into any profession or lifestyle. I say almost because one of the endearing qualities of Jarod as a character is a certain awkwardness he has, due largely to the fact that he was isolated by the Center, having contact with very few people, mostly his psychiatrist/mentor/teacher/keeper Sydney. Jarod was not allowed to grow up with toys as most kids do nor was he able to take part in simple pleasures, like doughnuts or ice cream. That particular component of the character makes Jarod extremely interesting, especially since this almost absence of guile is balanced by a need to seek not only justice for those who don’t have it, but also retribution for wrongs done against others…and ultimately against himself.
Along with taking on a new job each episode, Jarod also takes on a new last name, usually, at least thus far, somehow tangentially tied to the career he’s assuming for the time being. He does not, however, change his first name. He is always Jarod. This again plays into the true central theme of the show and why Jarod escaped. Used for years to run simulations for The Centre, Jarod discovered that the information they gathered from his work was often used for projects that brought harm and even death to others. This realization fueled a longer burning fire in Jarod, one that we get to see in flashbacks, framed as Jarod watching footage on computer disk of his simulations as a child. From almost his first day at The Centre, Jarod has wanted to and demanded one thing he does not have-information on his parents, which would lead to his own identity.
This premise in and of itself borrows from several shows that preceded The Pretender, most notably The Fugitive and The Incredible Hulk. All focus on a person sought by someone else either for something they didn’t do or for something they can do who is traveling the country, even the world making right what has gone wrong. In a way, it even borrows from one of its contemporaries in that manner, Quantum Leap.
Where The Pretender lends itself to influencing future shows, though, is in the continuing storyline that starts from the first episode. Although the center stage of each episode is Jarod bringing justice to someone in need of it, the undercurrent of The Centre pursuing Jarod, in the person of Sydney trying to help him and the extremely complicated and interesting Miss Parker trying to capture what she considers The Centre’s escaped animal, is a major driving force and turns the program into a massive arc. Quantum Leap did this as well, at least in its later seasons, and the most notable example of this was from another contemporary show, NCIS, dropping hints in its opening episode that wouldn’t play out for two or more years. The Pretender, and the other shows like it from the 1990s, built the foundation for TV series that, while doing stand alone episodes, also created a bigger canvas, interlocking everything into a continuity that engages viewers to return each week and works to build a fanbase quickly. From Lost to The Blacklist and countless others, The Pretender left its mark on what we now consider modern television.
The unique combination of innocence and an almost relentless need for vengeful justice make Jarod stand out as potentially one of the most interesting and complex characters ever created for television. In several episodes, his childlike fascination with discovering Silly Putty or fake dog poop is balanced with his framing dirty cops or freeing an innocent man jailed for murder. Played expertly and wonderfully naively by Michael T. Weiss, Jarod is both wide eyed child and avenging angel in every episode.
And the wonderfully intricate characterization doesn’t stop with the title character. Sydney’s dynamic with Jarod as well as his own mysterious history with The Centre add a certain weight to the program. And Miss Parker, troubled by her own mother’s murder as well as desperate to please The Centre, which her father rules over from the facility known as The Tower, is as dynamic a character as Jarod is. A lot of shows try to work off the tension of two characters playing cat and mouse with each other. The Pretender doesn’t only try, it provides likely the best example of how to build tension of all sorts between two people who, at least in the early seasons, barely see each other except when Jarod is running from Miss Parker, just a few seconds too late to catch him.
It’s not hard to tell that, as a whole, I’m a fan of this show. We will now embark on the journey through each individual episode. I will warn that spoilers may come up at times, although I will try to avoid them as much as possible. My articles are as much commentary as reviews, however, so if it is necessary to expand on a point, then a reveal or two may pop up. And, remember, even though I enjoy the whole, I won’t necessarily have great, or even good things about each episode as we perform an autopsy on The Pretender: The Complete First Season.
Episodes 1-6 will be WHAT THE FEDORA WATCHES…next time.