February 16, 1998 12:00 PM

NBC (Sat., Feb. 21, 8 p.m. ET)


I’m a quick study,” the title character says in the first of three Pretender episodes, airing from 8 to 11 p.m. on Feb. 21 (its regular slot is Saturdays at 9). You’ll need to be quick, too, if you’re a newcomer hoping this Pretenderama of reruns from November will get you up to speed on the complex, second-year drama. We’ll tell you now: Forget about learning who shot Mr. Raines (Richard Marcus), the bald ogre with the tubes up his nostrils.

Jarod (Michael T. Weiss) is a genius who can instantly master any occupation or assume any identity, and he uses his gift to nail evildoers nationwide. But that’s not the half of it. As a child prodigy, Jarod was snatched from. his parents and taken to a spooky think tank called the Centre (that British spelling is particularly sinister), where Mr. Raines and company exploited his brain matter for more than 30 years. When Jarod escaped to become a freelance crusader, the Centre gave sexy, relentless Miss Parker (Andrla Parker) the task of dragging him back. In the Pretenderama episodes, Miss Parker discovers that the organization has assigned sneaky blonde Brigitte (Pamela Gidley) to dog her while she dogs Jarod. Some posturing in The Pretender makes us snicker (Miss Parker smokes to indicate her toughness, While Brigitte licks a lollipop á la Kojak), but the show seems dead serious about Jarod’s adult quest and boyhood traumas (glimpsed in black-and-white flashbacks). What we find strange-and provocative-about Jarod are his vindictiveness (he likes to torment bad guys, not just turn them in) and his psychic turmoil, evidenced by frequent calls to Sydney (Patrick Bauchau), his former shrink-mentor at the Centre. Weiss and his character make us uncomfortable, but we’ll take that as a challenge.

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