It is good to be a Geek in this day and age in many ways. Science fiction and fantasy are big on the big and small screen. Superheroes are flying everywhere. The most pirated show on TV is an epic fantasy. Special effects have finally allowed even lower budgeted productions to approximate the sort of things that were previously only capable in cartoons.
But streaming services also allow Geeks the opportunity to see attempts at Geek Culture from the past. Currently, Netflix is carrying one of the earliest attempts at Geek TV, the influential-but-short-lived Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Kolchak starred actor Darren McGavin, probably best remembered for playing Ralphie’s dad, the Old Man, in A Christmas Story. McGavin played reporter Carl Kolchak, who worked for the Chicago-based Independent News Service (INS).
Carl Kolchak is something of a pain in the backside for his boss, editor Tony Vincenzo. The reason for this is Kolchak routinely brings in stories that are incredibly unbelievable. Kolchak seems to find things like vampires, werewolves, invisible aliens, cultists, zombies, headless motorcyclists, and giant lizards. Kolchak looks into these things, finds the facts, writes the stories…and no one believes him.
The show originally aired in 1974, and special effects of that time certainly limited what the show could do (that giant lizard isn’t very good). Only producing 20 episodes before cancelation, why should we care about such a show?
For one thing, McGavin is fantastic as the cranky reporter no one believes. He makes a credible lead.
For another, the scripts are actually generally good. One episode that stands out in my memory is one where an Indian shapeshifting spirit is terrorizing a Jewish neighborhood. The spirit always takes the silent form of a trusted person to its victims in order to lure the victim to his or her death. How does that work when Kolchak believes he doesn’t really trust anybody?
And for one last thing, the show was heavily influential on a more popular TV series that ran about twenty years later: The X-Files. McGavin even did a couple guest appearances on that show. The big problem for Kolchak may have just been a bit before its time.
There was another short-lived attempt to remake the series in 2005 with Stuart Townsend and Gabrielle Union in the lead roles, but like the original, did not run long.
Kolchak is a great example of a cult series, one that can still be watched and enjoyed by Geeks today. Check it out.