Tekwar: The Series (DVD)

Shatner goes cyber.

“Well, the kids have to learn about Tekwar sooner or later.”
—Principal Seymour Skinner

Apparently not content with one major sci-fi franchise with his name in lights, actor William Shatner (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) wrote a bunch of novels in the early ’90s—the Tekwar series. With the Shat’s celebrity name attached, the books were adopted into a series of made-for-TV movies, a weekly syndicated series, and a video game or two. Now, more than 10 years after Tekwar hit the airwaves, it cyber-speeds onto DVD in this three-disc set. Is it Shatner good, or does it get a Shat-nay?

It’s the future. “Tek” is a highly addictive virtual reality hookup sold illegally on the streets. With just a headset and a few small discs, addicts can make all their fantasies come true, and fry their brains in the process.

Jake Cardigan (Greg Evigan, My Two Dads) is a former cop recruited as an agent to clear the streets of tek, under the guidance of billionaire Walter Bascom (Shatner). Aiding Jake in his fight are his partner Sid (Eugene Clark, Land of the Dead), fellow agent “Sam” Houston (Maria del Mar, Jekyll + Hyde), and nerdgirl hacker Nika (Natalie Radford, Agent Red).

First off all, a warning for obsessive Tekwar fans: Although the box is marked “the complete series,” that’s not entirely accurate. Tekwar began as four made-for-TV movies, Tekwar, Teklords, Teklab and Tekjustice. These were successful enough to spawn a weekly syndicated series, which lasted 18 episodes. These DVDs, though, contain only the 18 episodes, and not the four movies that preceded them.

As you might expect, this series is loaded with cheesiness. There’s a lot of big hair and “what were they thinking” fashion, as well as sets that try a little too hard to be futuristic with an abundance of glass and neon. The matte shots of the super-futuristic cityscapes with gleaming silver skyscrapers don’t quite match the filmed-in-Toronto actual exteriors.

Even cheesier, though, is the number of cop show clichés run rampant in the series. Expect a lot of tough guy cop dialogue like “Let’s roll,” and “I got a hunch,” and “I’ve got your back,” and “That’s my job,” and so on. And just wait until you see the wild overacting done by the many villain-of-the-week actors. And then there’s the synthesizer score, which constantly assaults viewers with how bombastic it is. Every plot point is punctuated with an electronic “zhah-zhah-ZHAHHH!!!” followed by the pounding drums going “dum-dum-dum-dum-DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM!!!” A little subtlety in the music could have gone a long way.

As Cardigan (I’m feeling a little tired right now, so why don’t you kids go ahead and make up your own sweater jokes), Evigan throws himself into the role and plays it with a lot of energy, whether he’s punching out drug lords or rattling off cyber-jargon at a quick pace. Eugene Clark and Maria del Mar don’t quite keep up with him, but they fill their sidekick roles nicely. Shatner is obviously having fun playing a Donald Trump type. The Bascom character, we’re told, always has an ulterior motive and is always one or two steps ahead of everyone else, and this plays perfectly into Shatner’s tongue-in-cheek essence of cool.

The cheese factor is high, but the series nonetheless did a pretty good job of predicting where the future would go. Stuff like online shopping and online auctions are depicted as futuristic on this show. In one episode, Sid shows off a small white gadget with a screen on it, and he calls it a “pod.” These days, everyone on the subway has one of those. Also, characters are able to enter a virtual world where they can mess with computers and interact with programs. What’s this virtual world called? Why, “the matrix,” of course.

The video quality is surprisingly good, considering the low-budget nature of most syndicated TV series. Images are razor sharp, and colors are bright and vivid. This set comes with the show’s original 2.0 stereo track and a brand new, beefed up 5.1 surround track. The latter is quite good, especially during action scenes involved gunfights and explosions. There are no extras. Shatner couldn’t have done a commentary or an interview, not to mention other members of the cast/crew?

Fun fact: One of the writers on this series is named James Khan. All together now: “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNN!!!”

Sci-fi fans and Shatner groupies will find much to enjoy in Tekwar. Casual viewers, however, might not get as much from this.

The Verdict

William Shatner is found not guilty for supplying the perfect combination of cheesiness and cool that he does so well. For releasing the series without the four made-for-TV movies, the DVD producers must take a mandatory course about the definition of the word “complete.” Court is adjourned.

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