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Put On A Happy Face: A Look At The Unaired ‘Darkman’ Pilot

After the success of Darkman, Universal looked into franchising Sam Raimi’s wonderful, monstrous superhero creation.  While film sequels would eventually come, the first venue they targeted was television.  In 1992, a pseudo-pilot/concept presentation for a potential “Darkman” TV series was prepared.  Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert are credited as producers, but little is known about the project, so the how much they were involved with the project is unknown.

Instead of picking up where the film left off, the pilot functions more like a reboot, complete with a few simplifying retcons.  Robert G. Durant (a returning Larry Drake) is now presented as the primary antagonist, having destroyed Peyton Westlake’s (Chrisopher Bowen) lab and left the man disfigured, giving birth to Darkman.  Julie Hastings has apparently died in the explosion of Peyton’s lab, which is reused from the film.  There are a few other shots plugged in from Raimi’s movie, including various shots from Darkman’s showdown with Durant.

Darkman is now British, for some reason, despite everyone else retaining an American accent.  Bowen isn’t particularly good in the role and his accent comes off oddly.  When he’s being more gruff in his delivery while in the bandaged & scarred Darkman makeup, it comes off as laughable more than striking and that goes double for the ill-advised voiceover that runs almost the entire length of the episode.  He feels less like a semi-psychotic and occasionally homicidal madman fighting for good and more like a stuffy British professor.  He even lectures a street urchin at one point  about how graffiti is wrong, complete with his hands on his hips!  A final nail in the coffin of the character’s prowess, which is already hindered here by Bowen and some shoddy makeup.  Sorry folks, he doesn’t look anywhere close to as good as he does in the above still.

Larry Drake pretty much portrays Durant the same way he did in the film, although he isn’t given much screentime in the new footage he shot for the pilot.  Louis Strack Jr. and Durant have seemingly been merged into the same character, with Durant now a big shot gangster who has all of the city’s officials and police in his pocket.  Taking the place of Julie is a police ally for Westlake in the form of a detective named Jenny (Kathleen York), who herself has a beef with Durant over the murder of fellow officers.

The majority of the new footage used in the pilot is comprised of dialogue scenes, particularly a few between Darkman and Jenny.  There is one new action sequence, where Westlake attempts to assassinate Durant at a party.  While it retains the film’s pulp sensibilities, complete with Darkman facing off with one of Durant’s henchmen who is skilled in martial arts, overall it’s pretty cheap and sloppy.

It’s clear that not a lot of money was spent on this proof of concept project, so it’s hard to judge it as is.  Had Universal decided to move forward with it, I suspect the pilot would have mostly been reshot and the final product would have been far more polished.  Some of the newer concepts within do work, even if they are cliched.  I like Darkman being place opposite a female detective in an effort to take down Durant and clean up the city.  I like that Darkman’s new abode is an abandoned observatory that overlooks the city, lending his lair some theatricality that recalls his Universal Monster roots.  I like that the tone of the film is kept, despite the execution being lacking in quality.

This unaired pilot might not work, but it still showcases the inherent potential in the property, despite its individual failings.  It’s not hard to see why Universal pursued a continuation of Raimi’s film after this bump in the road, ultimately moving on to DTV sequels.  If the franchise is ever revived in the future, they might consider trying television again, if they don’t want to give a revival a large theatrical budget.  The character is certainly suited for the format and his face-changing nature could make for some really fun celebrity and character actor guest appearances.  Just some food for thought.  At it stands, this failed attempt at a “Darkman” TV series remains nothing more than an interesting curiosity of a footnote in the franchise’s history.  If you are curious enough to give it a look yourself, it’s fairly easy to find.

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