Stalker Episodes 1-11 Review
Stalker is not a good show. Actually… let me rephrase that. Stalker is absolute garbage, and, if you aren’t watching it, then you are missing out. Those who read my review of the pilot may recall that that particular episode left me quite angry and that I called it “inane” and stated that I did not care to subject myself to this show on a weekly basis. I stand by one of those statements. As it turns out, Stalker is a blast to watch. The idea that something this incompetent not only made it to air, but has even gotten an order for a full season is just hilarious. In my review of the pilot, I commented on how silly it was that CBS chose to schedule this alongside Criminal Minds as part of “a two-hour murdered women special,” but this makes Criminal Minds look like the f***ing Wire.
First let’s talk about our cast of characters. We, of course, have Dylan McDermott in the role of the most punchable face on television, Det. Jack Larson. Now, I haven’t been very favorable when speaking of Larson’s character in the past. In some of the TV podcasts, I might have said that I wanted to perform dental surgery on him with a tire iron. The show has made steps to make him less loathsome, though. Baby steps, but steps none-the-less. As you may recall, Larson is both a recently transferred detective who is part of an anti-stalking taskforce, and a stalker himself. The show has largely tried to make him more relatable by trying to contextualize his stalking. Apparently, the death of his father has made him regret his past actions and he wants to foster a connection with a son he had out of marriage, but the mother doesn’t want that because of something horrible he did in New York, so he has been stalking his son. There is one major problem with these attempts to humanize Larson: He is an obnoxiously smug asshat. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against McDermott. I think he is doing the best he can with the material that he is given, but, to put it simply, in a scene between him and a former skinhead, I ended up liking the skinhead more than I liked Larson (There is a quote for the DVD set: “Stalker! It makes skinheads comparatively likable!”). We also have Maggie Q as Lt. Beth Davis. As much as I’d love to complement the show for having a strong female main character, Beth is almost solely defined by the fact that she is a victim. She has two sides to her personality, aggression and fear, and nothing else. She also has relatively little role in many of the investigations, because she is too busy being victimized by a college student that she briefly investigated, Perry Whitley played by Erin Stocklin. Whitley could have been an interesting character study, but that’s true of the rest of the cast as well and look how that turned out. He spends most of his time either being intimidating and evil or looking like he is about to cry. One never gets the sense that beneath the whiny exterior there is a flesh and blood human that is worthy of exploration.
The rest of the cast can essentially be run through with a single breath, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to stop and look up the names of the characters. We have Mariana Klaveno who plays Janice Lawrence. Her character seems to have the thankless role of bringing joy and cheer to the proceedings with her constant sense of optimism. Of all the characters, I easily find her the least annoying, but she doesn’t really have much of an identity beyond being pleasant, and occasionally knowing random trivia that aids the investigation. There is also Victor Rasuk in the role of Ben Caldwell, a detective who seems to be constantly at odds with Jack. Again, an interesting concept in the broader sense, but, in context, this amounts to little more than the occasional pissing match between Ben and Jack. Now one could reasonably argue that this is a procedural and, as such, is not intended to be character driven, but the amount of time we spend focusing in on Jack Larson and Beth Davis would suggest otherwise. It seems to be aiming more for a blend of procedural cases and serialized drama, not unlike The Good Wife. Please note that, in any comparisons to The Good Wife, Stalker will not be coming out ahead. “So, if the character aspects of the show are suffering, then surely the cases can help carry the show,” I hear you say. There is one minor problem with that reasoning.
The cases in this show range from mediocre and forgettable to downright awful. It should be stated first and foremost that this is not the kind of show where you watch it and try to discern who the perpetrator is. All too often, the show will leave out vital bits of information until the last minute, and, even if you do ascertain who the perpetrator is, there is little sense of reward to it. Each episode is simply a procedural voyage from Point A, where someone is victimized, to Point B, where they catch the person responsible. Now obviously they try to shake up the formula from time to time, but that tends to backfire spectacularly. Take, for example, the Halloween episode The Haunting. Watch this episode. It is spectacularly stupid, with the victim actually being targeted by three separate stalkers! I cannot do this episode justice. It remains the highlight of the series so far, and is just so joyously incompetent that it deserves to be celebrated. From its opening scene with a menacing clown to its final scenes which are set to a slow simpering cover of Blondie’s “One Way or Another” the entire episode is just a blast, and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that Kevin Williamson was taking the piss out of himself at this point. Other episodes of particular note include Manhunt, which starts with a lesbian (that is the entirety of her persona) getting shot in the head on her wedding day and only gets better from there; Phobia, in which a stalker subjects his victims to their worst fears; Love is a Battlefield, which is worth watching just for the crappy cover of the the Pat Benatar song at the end; and A Cry for Help. Actually A Cry for Help deserves a bit of attention for being Stalker’s ham-handed attempt at entering the realm of morally gray scenarios. The stalker in this instance is a victim of rape who begins targeting those who were responsible. The reason this episode deserves attention is due to the fact that the characters themselves comment on the morally gray nature of what they’re dealing with and how there is no good outcome… and then immediately afterwards we are provided with a “good outcome” that completely undercuts what could have been an effective message.
Stalker is a fascinating show. It is a freak of television that deserves every bit of derision that it has received. And it deserves your attention. Not because it has some aspect that helps counter its flaws, but because it deserves to get as many people mocking it as possible. Television needs to learn from its mistakes and this is one hell of a mistake. I have sat with the rest of the MediaWhorz review group and riffed the hell out of this show. There was the potential for something good and informative here, but that possibility was completely sidestepped in favor of exploitative trash.
Before I wrap up a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- You know how Criminal Minds bookends its episodes with quotes that it considers relevant to the episode in question? Well, Stalker likes to end its episodes with crappy covers of songs. I laughed when I realized that this was going to be a recurring thing.
- Larson’s ex-lover (not ex-wife like I had initially assumed) Amanda Traynor is a Deputy District Attorney and also part of the main cast, but I honestly have nothing to say about her… like at all. She exists.
- Episodes of Note: Pilot (s01e01), Manhunt (s01e03), Phobia (s01e04), The Haunting (s01e05), and A Cry for Help (s01e10)
Stalker is the George Costanza of procedural crime shows. Every single impulse that it has is wrong, and it would be better off doing the opposite. There have been plenty of awful crime dramas in the past (K-ville remains one of my least favorites), but this is an impressive and notable entry in the genre. It is appalling to me that the network that puts out shows like Person of Interest and The Good Wife, which together contain some of the best female characters on television at this moment, also serves to provide us with this piece of misogynistic trash. Check it out.
I mainly continued watching Stalker because, if it turned itself around, I wanted to give it credit for fixing its problems. It did not.