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"Darkman"- the unaired TV pilot. It was pretty foul, but it had potential to get better...
As a huge fan of Sam Raimi's relatively forgotten early-90's gem "Darkman", I was shocked to learn that a pilot for a TV show based on the franchise had been developed in 1992. It was meant to be broadcast on the Fox Newtwork, but was never completed and aired, leaving it in a sort of limbo. So when I found a rough, pixel-y bootleg online, I just had to load it up.
Here's the thing- this pilot (the only episode aired) is pretty awful. But, I will say that the series did have some potential, and it did have a few things going for it, so it's a shame that it never aired. If it had gotten picked up, it could have gotten better.
I'm not going to explain the back-story and mythos of Darkman lore. If you're on this page, you know the story. So I'll just cover important points and changes/ret-cons.
Basically, the entire 30-minute (well, 22-minute) episode is a sort-of montage. There are some actual scenes in it, but it's mainly a prolonged "primer" for a real episode. It tells the origins of the character, and his connections to other characters, both new and old. It is also full of ret-con work, and much of the back-story is altered. In this version, Peyton Westlake was already married to Julie (they were not married in the film) and she died in the explosion (she was not killed in the original film) that created Darkman. In addition, Robert G. Durant is ret-conned into the main villain, rather than being the muscle-man he was in the Sam Raimi film.
Outside of that, the episode revolves around Peyton/Darkman's growing connection to Jenny, one of the few honest cops left in the city, and a homeless orphan boy (who was played by a child who is not listed on this site, nor in the bootleg I saw). There is also a relatively clever scene where Darkman encounters Durant in a nightclub, but it's fairly short.
It's hard to write a review because it's clear that the episode was not finished. The editing and sound work was rough, so I can't really score it fairly as a finished product. So I'll cut it some slack.
The acting is fairly bad. Christopher Bowen is our new Darkman, and he just doesn't do much with the role. He isn't as fun and troubled as Liam Neeson was in the first film, nor as brooding as Arnold Vosloo was in the sequels. Kathleen York forces a performance as Jenny, the beat-cop who Darkman kind of befriends,and comes off as very fake and "B-Movie." The only two actors who do a great job are the above-mentioned homeless child (he's actually quite good), and Larry Drake, reprising his role from the film. Drake is just as deliciously evil as ever.
The video quality was bad on the bootleg, so it's hard to say, but all-in-all, the episode was well-directed and of a high visual quality. (Although slightly more stylized than the film) The editing was an absolute mess, however, and at times it made no sense (mixing in random footage from the film). The script is also pretty bland and generic, and there is an annoying over-reliance on voice-over work.
All that being said, it still seemed like it had potential. With some careful editing (and re-shoots), this could have been a halfway decent pilot.
I'm giving this a 3 out of 10. It was below-average, but I've seen worse shows than this actually get picked up. As a fan of the franchise, I wish this had at least been completed and aired.
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