Monday, February 22, 2010

marathon night stalker

We recently watched a bunch of episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker back-to-back instead of Olympic luge or downhill skiing, or (gasp!) curling. I remember watching the series on television when I was a kid with my dad. He loved the mixture of sci/fi, horror and Darren McGavin's portrayal of the wily newspaper reporter. So did I (and still do).

Watching him flip through the yellow pages, or develop photographs in his darkroom, or pound his typewriter's keys is a definite nostalgia trip, but the show holds up as more than just a period piece or a glimpse into our recent past. There aren't a lot of characters as educated or interesting as Carl Kolchak on television today. Even the minor recurring roles are played by character actors who aren't afraid to crack wise. Each episode feels like a mini-movie. In fact the only television shows that provide as interesting a milieu or characters are made by the British: detective series such as Midsomer Murders, Lovejoy, Kingdom, Cracker, etc.

Kolchak will do anything to get a story. He is a liar, trickster, but also an in-depth occult researcher. Buffy's Giles and the X Files' Fox Mulder can trace their character's influences to this show. The X Files even gave a nod to McGavin by casting him in two episodes, once fans pointed out the strong similarities between the shows. Kolchak is also a crackpot, in the eyes of just about everyone around him. He is undeniably attractive to the ladies, even with his rumpled seersucker suit and straw porkpie hat. By nature of his ascebic personality and the aura of disbelief that surrounds him, Kolchak eventually has to "solve" all the crimes himself, usually by having to put his own life on the line. As obsessed as he may be to snap a photo or get a byline, he is even more concerned about stopping the killing and eliminating the monster-of-the-week.

Scares, clever dialogue, laughs, and the rumbling of the Chicago El in the background all combine for a fun time and a welcome diversion from the endless commercials and boring choices of network and cable television. And not many shows can boast episodes that feature a werewolf loose on an ocean liner, an extremely creepy, 60s-Italian-movie-Barbara Steele-ish female vampire, or a devil worshipping Tom Skerritt. You'll be whistling along with Kolchak after a few episodes . . .


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