It’s been a long time coming, but The Pretender is finally back. The story about a genius named Jarod, who has the chameleon-like ability to become anyone he wants to be (surgeon, soldier, policeman, chemist, teacher, FBI agent, etc.), debuted on NBC in 1996. Over four seasons, Jarod traveled the country using his abilities to help those in need. All the while, he was being pursued by agents of the Centre, a corporation that had taken him from his parents as a child and exploited his genius for their own shady purposes, and also searching for the answers to who he was and where he came from. After NBC canceled the series in 2000, cable network TNT picked it up for syndication and, in 2001, produced two movies that continued the story. While a third was planned that would solve the last remaining mysteries and wrap everything up, it never materialized, and fans were left hanging with an unresolved story. For years, creators Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle promised that they would one day bring Jarod back, refusing to let the story die. Twelve years later, the first in a brand new series of novels, The Pretender: Rebirth, has now been released.
Unfortunately for long-time fans, Rebirth is not a continuation of the television show. From how Mitchell and Van Sickle described it in their announcement back in July, I expected the book to pick up sometime after the final movie, The Pretender: Island of the Haunted, while retconning the backstory and events from the show to a more recent time, as a way to maintain continuity while still taking place in the present. Instead, Rebirth is a full-on reboot, essentially going back to the beginning of the whole story and starting over. Jarod has already escaped from the Centre just prior to the start of the book, and now his chief pursuer, Miss Parker, is called back into active duty by the Centre and charged with tracking down and capturing him. In a way, the book is a reworking of the very first episode, with Jarold arriving in New York and pretending to be a doctor at a prestigious hospital. Several scenes and even entire lines of dialogue from the first episode are recreated almost verbatim, and while the story runs a similar course, it ultimately plays out very differently. If you’ve been a Pretender fan since the beginning, as I have, it won’t feel like you’re just retreading the first episode.
The thing that struck me almost immediately is how easily Mitchell and Van Sickle seemed to slip right back into writing these characters, even more than a decade after they had last written them. Jarod, Miss Parker and Sydney all feel exactly as they did in the show. Their personalities, and especially Miss Parker’s ice cold bitchiness, is spot-on. Jarod is clearly the star of the story, trying to solve a little boy’s disappearance following a tragic car accident, while also pursuing a seemingly-unrelated mystery involving a high level clearance area of the hospital. At the same time, he encounters several patients who play varying degrees of importance to the story. I especially liked his interactions with a young female named Skylar. Jarod was always such a kind, warm-hearted and caring man who refused to stand by and let others be mistreated or ignored, and that side of him is well on display here. Miss Parker and Sydney have a lesser presence, basically stuck in Centre rooms trying to piece together clues as to Jarod’s whereabouts, but the authors set the stage for their characters to be developed in subsequent novels.
Many of The Pretender‘s hallmarks are present, some of them preserved identically. One was Jarod’s discovery of all the things that we take for granted, but are new to him from having been locked away in the Centre his whole life. Just like in the first episode, Jarod discovers ice cream for the first time, as well as PEZ, which sort of became his trademark on the show. He also has the DSAs — Digital Surveillance Archives — that he stole during his escape from the Centre, which he uses to reflect on his past and the various simulations he was forced to run for his captors. Others have been updated for 2013. Whereas Jarod used to keep small red notebooks filled with newspaper clippings related to whatever mystery he was working toward solving, he instead now uses an iPad, with a red cover. To my surprise, the language gets a tad . . . “heavy” at times, both in dialogue and the story itself. It’s not really too excessive, but it’s a little odd when you consider that The Pretender was a pretty family-friendly show in that regard. My only really big complaint is that the plot seems unnecessarily set up in order to lead into a second book, so in a way Rebirth almost just kind of stops rather than ends. But the climactic action, as Miss Parker closes in on Jarod for the first time, is exciting.
Overall, I was satisfied with Rebirth. Despite the occasional grammatical error, and a couple strange passages that are literally written from the POV of a rat(!) that lives in the warehouse where Jarod is staying, the plot was well told and suspenseful. The story kept me fully engaged throughout, which was good considering that it’s not until about halfway through that we finally begin to learn exactly what Jarod is doing in New York in the first place. A second novel, The Pretender: Saving Luke, is due out in December. Mitchell and Van Sickle have stated they have stories for at least a dozen books (that’s not even including the upcoming line of comic book mini-series that will compliment the novels with prequel stories), and while I’m still a little disappointed that they are not a direct continuation of the show, it was a lot of fun revisiting these characters anew. It’s because of that — my fondness for the characters and enjoyment of the overall story — that I’m willing to essentially go on the same journey again. This was a good start, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store, and who. (Mr. Raines? Broots? Angelo? Mr. Lyle? Brigitte?) The Pretender is back, and I couldn’t be more excited. original review on livejournal can be found here.