Thursday, 6 January 2011

TV Bites: 'HUMAN TARGET' 2.5 & 2.6 – "Dead Head" & "The Other Side Of The Mall"

Thursday, 6 January 2011

To prevent me going insane this year (especially during mid-season, when new shows add to my existing schedule), a few of my reviews will be given the "TV Bite" treatment -- which is, basically, "shoot from the hip"-style reviews. TV Bite candidates will be the shows I can't always find enough enthusiasm or time to write regular-length reviews for.

First up for 2011, the final two episodes of Fox's Human Target from before Christmas, which I slipped behind on...

"Dead Head"

Human Target plays the memory loss card, in a story where the gang's latest client (Roger Bart) suffers retrograde amnesia shortly after contacting them asking for protection and narrowly surviving a car-bomb. "Dead Head" was largely a mystery -- but one that, poised for Memento-like genius, fell short of its potential. Here, Chance (Mark Valley) had to not only protect his client (nicknamed "John Doe"), but try and unravel the mystery of J.D's background and why people want him dead. It also offered some character development for Winston (Chi McBride), who was forced to ask his ex-wife Michelle (Tracie Thoms) for help cracking the case, while trying to take down crooked cop Lt Broward, who was indirectly responsible for his divorce.

What worked about "Dead Head" was the strong note of ambiguity. Bart's an actor with a face that spits opinion: is he a likable everyman, or a twisted nutjob? Eli Roth used Bart's peculiar look well when he cast him in Hostel: Part II, playing a seemingly innocuous businessman with a dark desire to torture people. Throughout "Dead Head" you were never sure if J.D would turn out to be a dangerous villain once his memory returned, or if he was only pretending to have lost his memory and was leading us to a Keyser Soze-esque reveal. Right up to the dying moments, I was expecting a twist. The fact one didn't come was, perhaps in its way, a good double-bluff... although some might disagree. It was certainly an episode that could have been so much more in the right hands.

WRITERS: Dan E. Fesman, Nora Zuckerman & Lilla Zuckerman (story by Tom Spezialy)
DIRECTOR: Paul Edwards
TRANSMISSION: 15 December 2010, Fox, 9/8c
"The Other Side Of The Mall"

The ostensible "Christmas episode" was unnecessary window-dressing for a story that could have taken place at any time of the year, making the plot's attempts to feel festive look desperate and unconvincing. Chance hates Christmas, Winston loves it, they argue over getting a tree to brighten the office, and that's your Christmassy fill, until a last-minute sleigh-based stunt in a shopping mall and a kiss under the mistletoe.

Zeb Borro (a prolific writer on Chuck, brought onto this show by his colleague Matt Miller) had his fingerprints all over "The Other Side Of The Mall". This was a very Chuck-esque storyline; in that it was goofy and simplistic, with a peroxide blonde Euro-villain and an extremely irritating family in suburbanites the Applebaums. Said family were being targeted by cliched assassins, possibly because Mr Applebaum (Michael John Higgins) is poised to blow the whistle on a dangerous anti-cholesterol drug his firm's developing

I really wasn't convinced by this episode. It feels that Human Target has taken its title very literally this season, too, as nearly every episode boils down to protecting the guest stars from a procession of bland hitmen. There wasn't much going on here, and the show again struggled to justify its expanded cast -- forced to write Ilsa (Indira Varma) out of the episode, on a charity visit to Uganda.

Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) went undercover as a creepy janitor (twice*), Chance spent the day as an office drone (his idea of hell), Winston got to play a mall Santa, and Ames (Janet Montgomery) had a frankly awful subplot as the teenage Joel Applebaum's (Taylor Boggan) bodyguard/matchmaker. Shades of a young Chuck Bartowski with geeky Joel, too -- working a dead-end job flipping burgers, only to find himself paired with a sexy, ass-kicking babe. But it wasn't much fun; just awkward, cliched and tedious.

Added to that, the denouement made a more overt attempt to suggest sexual chemistry between widow Ilsa and lonely Chance, but I'm not convinced by any of it. The actors look rather bored around each other, actually. It may have been scheduled around the season of goodwill, but I had nothing but bad thoughts about this clunking dud.

WRITER: Zev Borrow
DIRECTOR: Peter Lauer
TRANSMISSION: 22 December 2010, Fox, 9/8c
* And three times in 2010, remembering the Nightmare On Elm Street remake.