Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Pilot: NBC's THE BLACKLIST

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

What's it about? NBC's The Blacklist is a crime drama revolving around the surrender of master criminal Raymond "Red" Reddington to the FBI, where he offers to help catch his criminal associates with the help of rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen.

Who made it? The show was created by Jon Bokencamp (Bad Seed) and produced by Sony Picture Television and Davis Entertainment. The pilot was directed by Joe Carnahan (Narc, The Grey).

Who stars in it? James Spader (Boston Legal) plays the so-called "concierge of crime" Red, joined by Megan Boone (Law & Order: Los Angeles) as Keen. Support is provider by the recognisable Harry Lennix (Dollhouse) as Keen's boss Assistant Director Cooper, Diego Klattenhoff (Homeland) as Agent Ressler, Ryan Eggold (90210) as Keen's husband Tom, and Parminder Nagra (Bend it Like Beckham) as Agent Malik.

What's good about it? The Blacklist has one of those easily communicable ideas that instantly lends itself to a continuing TV drama; where the manipulative Red will tease and cajole Keen as he assists the FBI in catching high-calibre crooks every week. Spader chews the scenery with gusto throughout, while Boone makes for a pleasant enough screen presence (think Autumn Reeser without the quirkiness). This pilot was handled well by feature director Joe Carnahan, who certainly maintained a strong pace, although his fingerprints were only evident during an action sequence where a girl under FBI protection was kidnapped on a bridge by masked gunmen with tear gas.

What's bad about it? The big problem is that nothing about The Blacklist feels fresh or original. Spader's character is a hybrid of every intellectual psycho fiction's ever coughed up, but mostly evocative of Hannibal Lecter because he's kept in a hi-tech underground cell. Red's relationship with Keen is also reminiscent of Lecter's fascination with Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs; he even has the same eye for detail when it comes to her personal grooming, and tends to only impart information in exchange for seemingly irrelevant personal anecdotes about her life. Quid pro quo, no?

Besides the clich├ęd Red Reddington trickster, the entire show is built out of ideas from better television shows and feature-films. The aforementioned bridge attack felt like a thrifty version of the one in Mission: Impossible III, the kidnapping of the little girl involved an admission from Keen that she's helpless to prevent her being taken (paraphrasing an iconic moment in Taken), and there was a scene of torture from a 'nasty foreign villain' straight from Fox's late-lamented 24.

Even accepting this show pilfers from better properties without adding something special of its own, The Blacklist is always overblown and ridiculous. When the FBI learn Red will only speak to Elizabeth Keen, they not only send a fleet of cars that screech up outside her house but a massive helicopter?

Is it worth sticking with? If you're enamoured with James Spader and could watch his doughy face play Mr Creepy forever without it getting old, be my guest. I doubt The Blacklist will evolve into anything other than a mildly diverting hour of nonsense if there's nothing else better to watch; but in this day and age, there's always something better to watch.

Anything else worth mentioning? I can't wait for the writers to tackle the fact Red's intel gets less reliable as the hours pass, because he's not going to be an effective informant unless the FBI cut him loose back into the criminal underworld. Right?

Where and when is it airing? Mondays on NBC, and it starts 4 October in the UK on Sky Living.