US tv series (1994; 1996-1999). Paramount Network Television/Paramount Domestic Television/Pet Fly Productions for NBC-TV/Syndicated. Created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo. Produced by Robert Benjamin, David L Beanes, Barbara Kelly, Michael Lacoe. Directors included Bruce Bilson, Gus Trikonis, Michael Vejar. Writers included Danny Bilson, Bruce Bilson, David Newman, Howard Chaykin, Andrew W Marlowe. Cast includes Dorian Harewood, Jeff Kaake, James McCaffrey (first and fourth seasons only) and Joe Nipote. One 96-minute pilot film plus 78 45-minute episodes. Colour.
Sometime "in the near future", the fictional Metro City, California, is beset by organized criminal groups. A hoped answer is the Viper project, which with initial help from the US government produces an advanced automobile first called the Defender, then the Viper (see Transportation). This can transform from an ordinary-seeming vehicle into the armoured Viper, armed with twin battering rams, small twin missile launchers underneath each door, a hologram projector and a mobile probe that can be sent out to scan the city. The Viper proves difficult to drive; but Michael Payton (McCaffrey), an expert driver for one of the criminal groups, is injured in a crash, and has his memory erased (see Amnesia). As Joe Astor, MetroPol police driver, he handles the Viper easily. The project is eventually cancelled thanks to bribes from various criminal leaders, but Astor steals the vehicle with the help of its designer Wilkes (Harewood) and wages a vigilante war against crime. His assignation to a long-term mission in Europe at the end of the first season brings this to an end.
The project is revived in Season Two with a new driver, Thomas Cole (Kaake) and a redesigned Viper. The latter is eventually stolen by one of the criminal organizations, and blown up via remote control by the Viper team. Updated versions of the Viper continue to appear for the rest of the series' run; Astor returns in the fourth and final season. The Viper team(s) deal almost exclusively with mundane criminals; the vehicle itself is the only real sf element. A Cloaking Device was added in the final season, as well as hovercraft capability. There was a delay of roughly a year between season one, when the programme was first cancelled by NBC, and the remainder of the series. The final three seasons were syndicated. [GFi]
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