Poltergeist: The Legacy, Season One (DVD)
Starring Derek de Lint, Martin Cummins, Robbi Chong, Helen Shaver
Created by Richard Barton Lewis
Buffy has her Watchers. Lestat has the Talamasca. Showtime viewers get The Legacy. And all in all, it's not such a bad deal.
Every so often horror fans are given a new group to investigate and protect us from paranormal, supernatural activities. The Showtime series Poltergeist: The Legacy focuses on the San Francisco branch of a centuries old secret society known as The Legacy whose mission is to protect the world from the forces of evil. It should be noted that other than a guest appearance by Zelda Rubinstein late in the season, the Poltergeist tag has absolutely nothing to do with this show, although occasionally an episode will focus on a haunting. Obviously, it's just an attempted cash-in on a "name" franchise, but in truth, the series doesn't need the help. It does a fine job of standing on its own.
I admit upfront that I never watched The Legacy during its initial run, so all I can go by for this review is what I've seen so far, which is all of Season One. If your opinion is based on the entire run, then you have the advantage. But I am enjoying catching up on what I've missed all these years -- and can't wait for the next set of DVD's to become available.
The Season One box set contains five discs with 21 episodes ranging from mediocre to wow, I can't believe I just saw that on a TV show! It has the ability to gives you the nudity and real violence a network show like Angel (which has a somewhat similar storyline) simply can't provide, but it does have some pretty strong melodramatic tendencies that luckily diminished as the season wore on (and hopefully disappeared completely in the series' later years). Unfortunately, for the most part, the series fails to capitalize on the more adult tone of its double-length pilot episode by relegating the sex and blood to the back burner although there are hints of both scattered here and there during the season.
There are five primary members of The Legacy's San Francisco team plus one child who factors into the action on occasion:
Derek Rayne -- Derek pretty much runs the show -- with never a hair out of place. The pilot episode explains how he came to join The Legacy after his father was killed by a demon. Derek is obviously quite wealthy and runs the Luna Foundation, which serves as the front for The Legacy and provides key plot devices (i.e., a theft at a museum in Episode 12 that just so happens to be owned by Luna). He also has visions on occasion, helping the group with their investigations. Dutch actor Derek de Lint shines in this role. He's one of those actors you know you know from somewhere (it was China Beach for me; he also appears in the new When A Stranger Calls). Interestingly enough, a medium supposedly told him 14 years before The Legacy premiered that he would one day play a psychic in a show that would change his life.
Rachel and Katherine Corrigan -- In the pilot Rachel, a psychiatrist, crosses paths with The Legacy in Ireland, where she is observing the one-year anniversary of the death of her husband and son. Her daughter, Kat, sees what she thinks is the ghost of her brother, but it turns out it's actually the same demon who killed Derek's father. One thing leads to another, and soon poor Rachel is pregnant with the demon's seed and . . . well, you just have to see it to believe it! But of course The Legacy saves the day, and next thing you know, Rachel is a full-fledged member of the group. Rachel is effectively played by Helen Shaver, who wears some of the shortest skirts on the planet by the way, and the relationship between her and Kat is one of the best mother/daughter dynamics I've seen in quite a while. Kat is a "sensitive" who will certainly become a full-fledged member of the House once she comes of age.
Nick Boyle -- Nick is Derek's right-hand man and the person most likely to shoot someone in any given episode. An ex-Navy SEAL, Nick feels everything deeply and emotionally. He acts first and thinks later. But more often than not, he's right. His father was also a member of The Legacy, but he was an abusive alcoholic who left Nick with the personal legacy of striving to be his dad's opposite and never wanting to mistreat anyone. Martin Cummins has a Matt Damon/Tom Cruise-ish air to him, which is perfect for the nice guy who just might go off at any moment and beat the crap out of you personality traits exhibited by Nick.
Alex Moreau -- Combination researcher for The Legacy/social activist/clairvoyant, Alex is the weakest link on the show. She seems constantly surprised by the events occurring around her, at least that's the case in Season One. Hopefully as the series unfolds over the next few years (it ran for four, 1996-1999), she becomes a more convincing member of the team. You can't really fault Robbi Chong (yes, that Chong) either; it's more a matter of how her character is written than her acting abilities because she does have a few shining moments as Alex evolves, and her personal energy is a perfect mix with the rest of the cast members' chemistry.
Philip Callaghan -- Is he still a member of the House or has he gone back to the Church? Father Phillip's status changes in almost every episode he's in (which is sporadic at best). One week he's up to his elbows in books doing research to help Derek and the team wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, and the next he's donned his priest robes, whining about the conflict between The Legacy and the Church. One thing's for sure, for whatever reason, Patrick Fitzgerald's acting abilities are directly proportional to his wardrobe. When he's in his street clothes, he's totally believable; but put him in vestments, and all his credibility goes out the window.
By now you're no doubt wondering what types of cases The Legacy investigates. Mostly they range from demons to ghosts to witches (although I have learned that vampires, werewolves, and more appear in later seasons). Other than a few especially creepy ghost stories (like "Fox Spirit," which effectively uses a bit of Chinatown's sordid history to tell its tale, and "Doppelganger," about an ancient Egyptian princess who befriends Kat), my preference is definitely the demon episodes. They are more serious than the rest and generally provide the most conflict and suspense. Two of the best are "Twelfth Cave," in which guest star David Ogden Stiers tricks Derek into accepting a cursed scroll dating back to early Biblical days, and "Crystal Scarab," the story of a man (Roy Thinnes) who will stop at nothing to keep his daughter alive.
Also of note are "Town Without Pity," "The Bones of St. Anthony" (directed by none other than Helen Shaver), "The Substitute," and the season finale, "A Traitor Among Us," which expands on the familiar "highlights reel" that many shows utilize in a rather surprising manner. Along with Ogden Stiers and Thinnes, we are treated to appearances by Nick Mancuso, Ben Cross, Alan Rachins, and Jennifer O'Neill throughout the season. It's always interesting to see familiar faces pop up when you least expect them to. By far the weakest episodes are "The Bell of Girardius," "Dark Priest," and "The Signalman." They just didn't bring anything new to the table other than "Bell"'s ghost/zombie hybrid pictured above.
As usual in the TV world, an assortment of writers and directors worked on the 21 episodes; however, the tone and all the characterizations remain consistent over the course of the season. One of the best things about The Legacy is that it takes itself seriously. When the shit hits the fan, the actors give their all, and there is no "winky wink" at the camera. Some of the effects may remind us that we're watching a TV show with a not-so-big budget, and occasionally we get a bit of cheesy "get thee out, Satan" type dialogue (don't even get me started on the horrendous voice-over that begins each episode), but to its credit, The Legacy plays it 100% straight. Certainly, a few of the episodes did reach their conclusions a bit too easily and conveniently, but we are talking about a 45-minute time frame. There's only so much you can do with that constraint. Another plus is that the look of the show did nothing but improve over time; the editors and DP's are all top-notch and the locations just right. In fact, the camera work is some of the best I've seen on TV, which makes me look forward to Seasons Two through Four all the more.
The one complaint I had as the series progressed was that it seemed as though each episode was going to be solely of the stand-alone variety. That would have been okay, but much better are those shows like Buffy and Angel and The X Files that have long arcs and recurring characters. Luckily, in the final third of the season, The Legacy joined the pack and immediately increased this reviewer's rating from 3-1/2 mugs to 4. Three episodes -- "Revelations," "Inheritance," and "The Reckoning" -- combined to give viewers a fuller understanding of Rachel and Derek's history and connection and even provided a clue as to why Philip needed to be away for a while. "The Reckoning" in particular was noteworthy. All the key players were involved, and its take on destiny and purpose brought the storyline to a powerful conclusion.
Not so noteworthy are the extras in the set – There are none! Not one single interview, not one deleted scene, not even one episode with a commentary. Okay, so there are a few trailers, but the distributors really should be ashamed of themselves for being so stingy to the fans, and hopefully subsequent box sets will make up for it. But even if they don't, I'll still be one of the first in line when Season Two hits the street. You should be too.
4 out of 5
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