The Fall television season is in the process of gearing up, and new series and season premieres are coming pretty much every day now. We already checked out Gotham earlier this week, but the other comic shows (Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and Agents of SHIELD) have a little bit to go yet, which leaves a bit of a gap in the schedule for me. To fill that I decided to give a few new shows a shot and see where that took me. The first on the list was actually Bastard Executioner, but I don’t really have anything to say about it at this point so I’m skipping that. Instead I’m looking at four shows (Limitless, Minority Report, Blindspot and The Player), with two I’ll cover now and two I’ll cover later. Minority Report and Limitless are continuations of sci-fi movies, so grouping those together makes sense, and both Blindspot and The Player have Strike Back alumni in lead roles, so there is that. For this post I’ll look at the latter two.
First up is Blindspot, which stars Jaimie Alexander in the lead role, whom comic fans will recognize as Lady Sif from the Thor movies and some guest spots on Agents of SHIELD. Her opposite number is played by Sullivan Stapleton, who did a superb job in Strike Back on Cinemax, and whose lead role in 300: Rise of an Empire unfortunately didn’t quite jumpstart his career that way its companion title did for Gerard Butler. Of the three shows on my list this is the one that is not based on a movie, but instead has decided to travel the ground well-troden already by shows like The Following and The Blacklist.
The hook of this series is that Jaimie’s character, Jane Doe, is found in time square with no memory and covered in cryptic tattoos. Honestly, as hooks go I have to admit I don’t find it all that compelling. Since the tattoos are apparently clues about events that will happen in the future it suggests that the person who put them there is thinking massively far into the future and is seeking to manipulate events to their own end. It reaches so far into the realms of master manipulation that it loses most of its credibility right out of the gate, and I’m checked out from this plot. Years of watching shows like this has, admittedly, made me rather jaded about over-arching mystery plots focused around questions like this, and how often the answers tend to not be satisfying (if they are even forthcoming at all).
Okay, so that is a major strike against the show before it even starts, and that is not entirely fair to it. Obviously I did watch it despite my apathy to the plot, and I did actually enjoy the show enough to keep it on my DVR list. The majority of that comes from Jaimie Alexander’s performance in the show, and also to a lesser extent Sullivan Stapleton’s. Sullivan’s character, Kurt Weller, doesn’t have much development at this point, and he is just your typical FBI enforcer as a result. I’m sure this will change as the season progresses, but for now he lacks enough dimensions for Sullivan to work with and get a good performance out of. A large part of that is because the focus is still squarely on Jaimie’s Jane Doe character, which makes sense given that her mystery is at the heart of the episode and show. Her character is also not particularly developed, but then that is kind of the point. Jaimie does her best with what she is given, though, and her performance is strong enough to carry the majority of the show on her own (and Sullivan is there to pickup the slack when she’s not around).
As for the plot of the episode, well, it is pretty standard fare for this kind of show. The tattoos eventually lead the FBI team to a terrorist plot in progress, which they defuse. I imagine that we can expect a “terrorist plot of the week” with this show, which may or may not run cold after a while. We also learn that the events of the episode proceed exactly as a man clad in shadows has anticipated they would (oooo, ominous), and that the plan is going forward nicely. We are obviously supposed to be wondering who mystery man is and what his intentions are (they don’t seem to be nice… but then why help foil the terrorist plot?), but I really can’t work up the enthusiasm to do so. Actually, if they gave him a cat that he could stroke while being mysterious and ominous I’d probably enjoy it a lot more, since then they would at least be acknowledging the absurdity of the plot. I really hope this doesn’t become one of those shows where the mystery man shows up at the end of each episode to laugh manically about how his plan is coming to fruition (figuratively… if he literally did that, I’d probably enjoy it).
Honestly, once everything is boiled away, I think my issue with the show is that it takes itself entirely too seriously. This is a James Bond (Connery era) plot wrapped up in a layer of dour seriousness. The Blacklist gets away with its absurd plot largely because James Spader is allowed to have fun with the role and acknowledge, to a degree, the insanity of it. A small amount of self-awareness goes a long way with shows like this to making them palatable. On the other hand, shows like True Detective and The Following are about as bleak as can be and still rack up massive ratings each season so there is obviously a market for stuff of that nature — I’m just not part of it. That said, I’m willing to stick this one out for a few more episodes on the strength of Jaimie and Sullivan alone, and a genuine curiousness as to how they are going to continue to play this. Will they continue to rely on the mystery of Jaimie’s backstory to try to draw in viewers, or will the episode-to-episode stories be strong enough to keep viewers coming back for more? Time will tell.
That brings us over to the rather oddball show The Player, which is known best for being a vehicle to bring Wesley Snipes back to American pop culture. If you recall he was forced out of the business for a while by some pesky tax evasions charges back in 2010, and he has since served his sentence for that. He has been a bit quiet since then, limiting his work to a role in Expendables 3 until now (a direct-to-video release came out in 2012, but it was actually created several years before and languished in development hell for a number of years — reports suggest it should have stayed there). All of which is completely meaningless to this show, except for the fact that it brings a recognizable name to this show. In fact Snipes is playing a supporting character, albeit and important one. The real star is actually Philip Winchester, who is the other main character of the Strike Back alongside Blindspot‘s Sullivan.
The premise of The Player is much more straight forward than Blindspot, but it still contains that mystery element that is so in vogue these days. The idea here is that some super rich people are bored and place bets on the outcomes of crimes that are yet to happen, but they are somehow able to predict anyway. Rather than use these powers of foresight for good they instead introduce a random element, the titular player, and see how it impacts the outcome. Winchester’s Alex Kane is the newest such player, although rather reluctantly, and Snipes’ Mr. Johnson is the man who gives him his missions. The driving mystery of the series is not the identity of these mysterious super rich business men, but rather whether or not Alex’s ex-wife (who was about to lose the prefix to that title) was killed by that organization, and if she wasn’t killed finding where she is now. Enriching the mystery is the fact that Alex’s handler, and foil to Snipes, appears to have had a direct history with Alex’s wife. She also seems to be at least a little sympathetic to Alex’s plight, though that may just be an attempt at manipulating him.
There’s layers and layers of deception and mystery at work here, but pretty much none of it matters. The mystery of Alex’s wife is mostly just there to keep Alex in a game that he finds morally reprehensible, the silent billionaire backers are there to provide a framework for the action-movie-of-the-week narrative, and Snipes is there to act as a proxy identity for the bored billionaires. That really is all you need to know since the main point of the show (as you might expect from a Snipes production) is action, pure and simple. And the action is certainly good, to be fair. As far as action shows go it has good production values, the actors and stuntmen know how to stage a good fight, and the framework is just shakily solid enough to give context. Sure that context isn’t very interesting or fleshed out, but for a show like this it doesn’t have to be. This is popcorn tv at its absurd finest.
Since 24 does seem to have wrapped for a while, and Strike Back is definitively done there is actually a gap in modern television for a good action show to jump in. Sure we have Arrow in the mix, as well as a few others like it, but this fills a slightly different niche and there is room for both. Television is getting to the point where we can start seeing movie quality action scenes and explosions, and this show seems dead-set on proving that. I would hardly consider it must-see TV by any stretch, but it does at least not have any pretensions of being anymore than it is. If you are looking for a weekly dose of giant fireballs, gunfights and car chases then this is the show for you. I went into this with expectations so low you’d need to use SONAR to find them, but this managed to pleasantly surprise me. It may not be something I watch each and every week as it airs, but it will make for some good rainy day viewing when I just need something mindless.