“Is this fungus evil?” --- student
“No. It's just trying to survive.” --- Dr. Linus, University Egghead
Prior to its one-time broadcast on September 8th, 1995, NBC actually aired promo spots for this Fox-produced pilot for a proposed series using the Omen franchise moniker, but instead of further misadventures of Satan's offspring, the high concept episode focused on a team of disparate weirdness hunters along the lines of Fox TV's X Files (which had premiered two years earlier, and by 1995 had assembled a devoted audience). Tossed into the clumpy mix was a chase sequence in Boston during the St. Patrick's Day parade (stolen from The Fugitive movie, released two years earlier) that had the show's two nascent entity hunters stopping a possessed man from exposing crowds to a flesh-eating toxin (another element inspired by the media's then-voguish fascination with super bugs, after the publication of Richard Preston's best-selling non-fiction page-turner, The Hot Zone).
The TV pilot has no credited screenwriter, although the IMDB has filled in that hole with executive producer John Leekley, who had contributed to Wes Craven's neat cult series Nightmare Café (1992), helped shape the underrated Kindred: The Embraced (1996), and co-created Wolf Lake (2001) – all short-lived TV series that ran into their own respective curses, tragedies, and network apathy.
In the case of The Omen, though, one gets a sense Leekley's script was originally written for a pilot intended to run 90-120 mins. but was sabotaged by deep edits that eventually hacked the broadcast version down to an hour, leaving little to impress viewers when the whole show was riddled with fast-moving ideas and clumsily borrowed concepts from far better sources, many of which were given more time to pace out their own show-stopping sequences, and develop characters that weren't, well, stupid, and suffered from silly coincidences.
The pilot basically assembles three character through a series of colliding threads: scientist/biologist/egghead Dr. Linus (William Sadler) discovers his learned partner has hung himself in a locked missile silo to prevent the green, translucent entity from leaving his body and possessing another human; burnout case and obsessive-compulsive weirdness photojournalist Jack (Brett Cullen, later to play “Goodwin” in ABC's Lost) heads to Boston to track down Linus after learning of the good doctor's dead partner; and head nurse Annalisse (Chelsea Field, from Dust Devil, and Aaron Spelling's infamous Nightingales series) becomes possessed by the entity when it passes from the cadaver of her sister, struck earlier that day by a rancher Dr. Linus met outside of the silo before the entity moved from his dead egghead partner into the rancher's body.
These are the plausible (ahem) narratives that eventually put all three lead characters under one roof – Annalisse's hospital – where the possessed nurse is forced by the entity to steal a vile of flesh-eating bacteria from a secret military lab kept in the basement, but loses it to the hospital's publicist who manages a magnificent slight of hand by extracting the vile even when it's housed in a smooth metal canister, and in a hallway surrounded by armed soldiers and two major eggheads: Dr. Linus, and the hospital's in-the-know doctor who recognizes it's better to trust Linus and the photojournalist he just met, rather than the U.S. Army when dealing with the germ warfare the possessed publicist intends on pouring onto candy before a wee lass in a celebratory float sends it cascading into St. Paddy Day revelers.
When Linus and Jack reacquire the cylinder of flesh-eating goo, they do so with the aid of Aaron (St. Elsewhere's Norman Lloyd), the last in a long line of entity hunters, who anoints Jack and Linus as his successors before croaking on the sidewalk
To his credit, Aaron realizes in his last seconds of mortal existence that two hunters will probably be more successful that the unilateral approach of each prior generation (himself included), since the misty menace is, and has always been, a global threat. This also relates to the present-day dilemma of rapid viral and bacteriological transmission via air travel, but maybe that's just reading more than what Leekley and director Jack Sholder (The Hidden) intended for us.
Linus' interest in being a hunter comes from the entity's bio-mutant qualities, whereas Jack wants revenge for the death of his pregnant wife; in the case of Annalisse, she just wants ‘outta that creepy place,' but she seems okay with the residual gift left by the ageless entity: sometimes she can see what it sees when it's inhabiting a new victim (among many, due to the internal ‘hot house' effect that ultimately short-circuits the nervous system of every host).
The entity is also an all-knowing thing with fabulously great timing: he's the rancher who mows down Annalisse's sister, and he's also able to redress himself as the first paramedic on the accident scene, and apparently has the power to hypnotize minions, although that stays rather vague throughout the pilot.
The production values are pretty good, the effects are adequate, the synth score by J. Peter Robinson (Nightmare Café, Kindred: The Embraced) is most effective when at its most subdued, and the performances are straightforward, but it's a truncated pilot that bears zero relationship to the original Omen franchise, let alone any religious mythos; the entity is just a parasitic energy mass that seeks to usurp lives with the greatest amount of collateral damage, and when it leaves its dying host, the green chilly mist is described as an OMEN.
Get it? Got it? Make any sense now?
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan