Where 1991’s Knight Rider 2000 began, Viper continued three years later. Set “the day after tomorrow”, Viper premiered as a two-hour movie on Sunday, January 2, 1994: centering on a Viper sports car (first the red RT/10 Roadster, then a blue GTS Coupe) that turns into a silver crime-fighting vehicle called the Defender.
The show aired as a mid-season replacement on Friday nights that followed Joe Astor/Michael Payton (James McCaffrey), “the most wanted man on wheels” who “decided to change sides” thanks to “a cosmetic fine-tuning” to drive the most sophisticated car on the planet. Once the best getaway driver for the criminal organization called the Outfit, Astor now takes on “a corrupt system” with the help of the Viper’s designer Julian Wilkes (Dorian Harewood) and Franklin X. Waters (Joe Nipote), who runs the motor pool of the Metro City Police Department. Together, the three of them are in “a lone fight for justice” to take back the streets from the Outfit. Despite excellent special effects, strong character development, and great episodes that gave it a comic-book feel in the form of Batman, Viper was canceled in April 1994 after just 11 episodes.
However, the project was reborn two years later in syndication with a new cast and premise; only Nipote was the original cast member that remained throughout the entire series. This time, Viper followed a federal task force led by CIA agent and expert security driver Thomas Cole (Jeff Kaake) and MetroPol detective liaison Cameron Westlake (Heather Medway). With Frankie back on the project as the mechanic, Dr. Allie Farrow (Dawn Stern) became the new weapons and system designer. After a year on the project, Allie left the team to work for a think team, and Frankie took on her responsibilities.
FBI agent Sherman Catlett (J. Downing), who recurred in the previous season, joined the team. Sadly, the project would suffered a loss with the destruction of the Viper, but the project found new life in the final season with the return of Wilkes in charge of creating a new Viper. He then enlisted the aid of his old friend Joe Astor to get back behind the wheel once more. Not only did Astor succeeded Cole as the driver for the Viper Project, but he also mixed things up with Westlake both professionally and personally. However, he still had deal with the aftermath of his Michael Payton past, which led to a split decision in the two-part series finale, in which he decided to become Joe Astor: the man he was always meant to be.
After four seasons and 78 episodes, Viper was canceled permanently in 1999. Reruns of the show aired on USA Network and SyFy Channel for several years.
Viper is up there with Knight Rider and Renegade: a modern update of The Lone Ranger who rides into town and saves the day every week.
The perfect weapon for an imperfect weapon