29 December 2000 | Jack_Yan
Like any revival, falls short of the original
The original Viper (1994) adapted the BilsonDe Meo formula of mixing comic-book adventure with live action, something that the pair had successfully done with The Flash and Rocketeer. With the big-screen Batman and other films of the era re-creating the comic-book feel, Viper, with its part-science-fiction, part-crime storylines brought the style to the small screen. The villains in futuristic concept cars or Richard Burgi playing golf on a life-size simulator; the haunting lair of the Viper team and the excellent special effects there was courage by a crew that tried to paint a picture of a time just after now. The same philosophy helped the success of series across the Atlantic such as The Avengers or UFO.
When Viper was revived in 1996, the ingredients that had made the original so charming and distinctive had disappeared. Relocated to another city, Viper was set firmly in the present, rather than the near future. Replacing the science-fiction style was the tried-and-trusted American cop-show formula. Whereas the original team had been outside the law, the new one would be a legally sanctioned police team. Motor pool suit Franklin X. Waters (Joe Nipote) got a larger role but as the Viper mechanic and HQ-based geek, but his promotion meant the disappearance of his beloved Plymouth Barracuda.
Now, the only difference between the police detectives here and those on any other American police show was the use of a morphing Dodge Viper, updated to the relevant model year.
This allowed for more unimaginative storylines and plot holes, just as any everyday American police series had. One could easily transfer a story from any other cop show into the new Viper: this series now smells of metooism and cheapness. It had lost any of the originality that the first writers and current executive producers, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, injected. Less logical and less distinctive, it was relegated to late-night slots in New Zealand, while its 1994 predecessor had enjoyed prime time. The programmers made the right decision.
Despite the return of James McCaffrey in the lead in 1998 and a guest appearance by original cast member Dorian Harewood, little improved. The new formula is just that: a formula. About the only distinction remaining is one's ability to observe Chrysler product placements. Like so many American shows, Viper became far weaker on its revival and was probably another victim of US network tinkering.