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New 'Lone Ranger' pales in comparison to the original

Sunday, February 23, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Who knew The Lone Ranger had a perpetual case of bed head hair and a wisp of a soul patch?

No one, until now.

TV Review
"The Lone Ranger"
When:8 p.m. Wednesday. on The WB.
Starring: Chad Michael Murray, Nathaniel Arcand..

The WB's re-imagining of "The Lone Ranger," airing Wednesday at 8 p.m., updates the legend but does so with ham-fisted attempts to be "cool" and relevant to the network's teen-age core audience.

Remaking a classic is dicey business. The WB succeeded beautifully with "Smallville," its take on the Superman legend. "Smallville" was an out of the gate success in its pilot and has improved ever since.

"The Lone Ranger" was filmed a year ago as a pilot for a prospective fall series. Producers have said it proved too expensive to make on a weekly basis, but I think they also realized writers Stacy Title and Jonathan Penner didn't come up with a treatment that worked. And maybe a period Western would never work on The WB.

One of the network's favorite actors, Chad Michael Murray, was cast in the "Lone Ranger" title role. With his unruly blond mop-top, Murray previously appeared on The WB's "Gilmore Girls" (as Tristin in the first season) and more recently on "Dawson's Creek."

Murray stars in "The Lone Ranger" as Luke Hartman, a Boston law student who visits his brother (Sebastian Spence), a Texas Ranger living in Dallas in the late 19th century. After his brother is killed and Luke is wounded, the Apache Tonto (Nathaniel Arcand) rescues Luke, who gets a crush on Tonto's sis, Alope (Anita Brown).

If this sounds a bit like "Dawson's Reservation," well, it is. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and "Lone Ranger" has a few admirable touches. Luke's sister-in-law announces plans to rename Hartman's Trading Post, calling it Hartman's Department Store.

"Then we'll put all of the items in their own department," she says, coining a new term.

Intended as a pilot for a series, the two-hour premiere introduces a raft of characters that provide fertile ground for story development, particularly the owner of the town hotel (Jeffrey Nordling), who's up to no good.

It's not just the town capitalist who's bad, members of Tonto's tribe are also portrayed as isolationist, whereas Tonto embraces early notions of diversity and getting along to get ahead.

Luke goes on a vision quest, accompanied by MTV-ready tunes. It will never be said that this version of "Lone Ranger" is worried about anachronisms.

"You call my savagery incompetent?" bellows a bad guy in 21st-century snarky evildoer parlance. "You think that's a good motivator?"

At one point, Luke tells his new friends, "Look, I'm in a hurry and I don't speak mystic Indian." But it turns out, almost all the Indians in "The Lone Ranger" do.

"You cannot let your passion get away from you," an Indian elder tells Luke. "It doesn't diminish, it just takes you where you want to go."

In addition to a Lone Ranger who you'd expect to say, "Dude!" this movie includes some unexpected wire work. Somehow, Tonto, and later the Lone Ranger, soar through the air like they stumbled in from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Where this talent comes from is never explained, just chalked up to an Ancient Indian Secret.

Regardless of The WB's failures (including this season's "Family Affair" update), the network will push ahead with remaking old series. Already on the drawing boards: "Young MacGyver" and an update of "The Courtship of Eddie's Father."

Earlier this month, The WB cast Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel in the title role of its "Tarzan" update that's in development for fall. At least all the shirtless scenes in "Tarzan" will seem less forced than when the Lone Ranger takes to a natural hot sulfur spring.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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