Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: TNT's LEGENDS - the many minds of Mr Bean

Friday, 15 August 2014

LEGENDS is a new procedural from U.S cable's TNT, developed by Howard Gordon (24, Homeland), Jeffrey Nachmanoff (The Day After Tomorrow), and Mark Bomback (Die Hard 4.0), adapting a novel by Robert Littell called Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation. It stars Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) as FBI undercover specialist Martin Odum; a man so gifted at creating fake personalities, that he's developing some identity issues, but he's the MVP of the FBI's Deep Cover Operations (DCO); led by Nelson Gates (Steve Harris), with colleagues Crystal McGuire (Ali Larter), Tony Rice (Morris Chestnut), and Maggie Harris (Tina Majorino).

I wish I could say Legends (the DCO's term for false identities) started well, but I was very disappointed by this pilot and don't have any intention of watching beyond it. I like Bean as an actor, but he isn't anyone's first choice when you're looking for someone capable of playing different characters every week. That's a very special skill-set, and based on Bean's filmography I don't see a lot of range. Unless this show is going to be a revelation to viewers, demonstrating that Sean Bean's actually a man-of-a-thousand-faces who's just been typecast as gruff alpha males and dashing working class hunks for the past 30-years. I have huge doubts this will prove to be true. Ditto co-stars Ali Larter (Heroes) and Morris Chestnut, only doubly so.

Still, Bean wasn't bad in this premiere. He's a good actor and the storyline requires him to switch between two character types that are in his wheelhouse: Yorkshireman (i.e. his everyday self), and generic American (with a dose of nerdiness, mainly with a slight stammer). While I don't envisage him vanishing into weekly roles like a human chameleon, he's a talented man and can command a screen. The reason I stuck with Legends for the entire pilot was solely down to Bean. It just feels a shame he's now stuck in a generic waste of time like Legends, which will probably be enough of a hit to take him away from better projects for a few years or more.

I'm not going to delve into details of the premier, which involved Martin going undercover with a a group of militants, to stop their "Founding Father" (Ċ½eljko Ivanek), carrying out a terrorist attack. It was straightforward and not particularly interesting. Even a late attempt to give the whole thing added zing, with a mysterious stranger planting the idea that even Martin Odum is a false identity, wasn't enough to grab me.

A show like Legend needs a multi-faceted actor to carry the premise off, and I have doubts about Sean Bean's ability to craft more than perhaps five noticeably different personalities. Maybe I'm selling him short (he did win an Emmy for playing a transvestite in a 2012 episode of Accused), but that's my gut feeling. Dollhouse faced a similar issue with Eliza Dushku being even less adept than Bean at becoming vastly different people every single week, but that show had an elaborate mythology and a fantastic supporting cast to prop everything up. Legends doesn't have those perks, alas, and is an altogether more straightforward drama.

While I'm already convinced Legends isn't for me (not being fan of weekly procedurals at the best of times), I'll keep an ear out about how this ten-episode season progresses. It would be a pleasant surprise if Sean Bean's suddenly unrecognisable most weeks, and casting agents across the world realise he should never have become pigeon-holed. But also too much to ask?

written by Mark Bomback & Jeffrey Nachmanoff (story by Howard Gordon, Mark Bomback & Jeffrey Nachmanoff) | directed by David Semel | 13 August 2014 | TNT