October 8, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Stalker”


STALKER:  Wednesday 10PM on CBS

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on STALKER:  Lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q) runs the Threat Assessment Unit of the LAPD, with a staff that includes Detectives Janice Lawrence (Mariana Klaveno) and Ben Caldwell (Victor Rasuk).  Their job is to investigate stalking incidents and protect victims from the more dangerous offenders.  The squad newcomer is Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott), a transfer from New York who has an intuitive grasp of the stalker’s mindset, and well he should:  he’s come to LA to stalk his own ex-wife, Amanda Tate (Elizabeth Rohm), and young son–and she just happens to be the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the TAU.

Episode 2:  For the most part, Stalker is an utterly routine procedural, one whose plotting makes shows like Major Crimes and SVU look clever.  What makes Kevin Williamson’s show ugly, though–in a way, even uglier than his The Following, although the violence level is much more restrained–is the McDermott character.  We don’t yet know just how threatening Larsen is, or what he did in New York to make his family flee, but the suggestion so far is that at the very least he’s a creep, and he could be much worse.  The fact that the show mostly portrays him as a hero could be an indication of dark complexity, but it feels instead like insensitive exploitation.  Stalker made things worse in its 2d episode by having Larsen’s ex-wife Amanda act like an imbecile when faced with his presence on the squad.  Even though she’s a law enforcement professional, instead of revealing who Larsen is, she kept his secret, with the threat that she’d blab if he didn’t leave town in 2 weeks.  (Since both Rohm and McDermott are series regulars, that deadline is unlikely to be kept.)   Also fueling the show’s generallly unappetizing air was the return of the college stalker Beth beat up in the pilot, who is now stalking her and her friends.

The episode itself, written by Co-Executive Producers Sanford Golden and Karen Wyscarver, and directed by Liz Friedlander, was of little interest.  After an opening sequence that seemed like a half-hearted homage to the famous start of Williamson’s own Scream, with a teen girl who feared herself stalked walking around the house and narrating her hunt for the intruder to her friend on the phone, the show barely managed a red herring or two before revealing its supposed twist, that it wasn’t the girl but her young brother who was the target, kidnapped by a deranged neighbor who thought he was her own son whom she’d murdered at the same age.  There was very little suspense, and the actress who played the villain was allowed to go quite a distance over the top.

Two episodes in, Stalker has done nothing to develop the characters of Beth or the two essentially anonymous younger cops in her unit, and Larsen is depicted in more detail just because the series can’t get enough of his ickiness.  When a series can only demonstrate interest in the part of its story that makes you want to take a shower, it’s in trouble.  Stalker got off to a fair 2.0 ratings start in its premiere last week, boosted by its lead-in Criminal Minds, but it seems both too ordinary and too off-putting to hold up.  If it does, CBS won’t have anything to feel proud about.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  The Bottom Of the Procedural Heap



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."