Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pilot watch: NBC's BLINDSPOT

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


What's the premise? Blindspot is a new NBC mystery drama, created by Warner Bros. Television. It concerns the discovery of a naked tattooed woman in Times Square, dubbed 'Jane Doe' (Jaimie Alexander), who's lost her memory and can't even remember who she is. The FBI become involved when someone notices a tattoo on Jane's body is the name of FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton).

Who's behind it? Martin Gero (Stargate Atlantis) and Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash) are the creators and executive producers, with Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) directing the pilot episode.

Who's in it? Beyond Jaimie Alexander (whom you'll recognise as Lady Sif in Thor, or from Kyle XY many years ago) as the show's beautiful amnesiac, and Sullivan Stapleton from Strike Back, there's Rob Brown (Treme) as Edgar Reed, Ukweli Roach as Dr Borden, Audrey Esparza as Tasha Olso, Ashley Johnson as Patterson, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Broadchurch) as Bethany Mayfair.

What are your first impressions? The basic idea sounds like a mix of the film Memento (a man with short-term memory covers his body in helpful tattoos), short-lived 2002 drama John Doe (a man with amnesia wakes up on an island), and a touch of Prison Break (a full-body tattoo is secretly prison blueprints). The latter starred John Doe's Dominic Purcell, strangely.

Blindspot is thankfully nothing like either of those, although it's hardly the most original of shows when you cut through the central gimmick—which doesn't really feel that special, as Jane's tattoos are immediately computer-scanned (meaning her physical presence isn't as vital as you'd imagine to the investigation), and she's already beginning to recover memories by the end of this pilot.

Some of that is there to tease audiences into watching another episode, because the problem with high-concept shows is they don't often manage to last the desirable five years without flaming out. I don't know how long Blindspot can keep its 'treasure hunt' going before viewers get frustrated watching Jane and Kurt solve weekly crimes, that are somehow predicted by her body ink, because everyone's savvy enough with television to realise answers will be drip-fed over many years—unless, ironically, cancellation becomes a stark possibility.

Alexander's decent in the lead role, but by her very nature Jane's not exactly the most personable of characters. She resembles a startled sparrow for most of the pilot, before some of her latent skills and abilities start to rise to the surface. Oh yes, you can add The Long Kiss Goodnight to the list of probable influences here. Stapleton's okay, but there's not much to differentiate his character from most other macho FBI field agents on TV; ditto Jean-Baptiste in the 'tough black bossy lady' role we've seen hundreds of times.

What's the prognosis? The Blindspot pilot is very slick and polished with good momentum, but I'm naturally pessimistic about mystery dramas these days. Most feel like a great idea for a movie, where you go on a cool journey and get the answers after two-hours, but in being dapted for long-form TV that sometimes can't help diluting what made the concept attractive to begin with.

There are a few intriguing and unexpected developments in the last five minutes of this hour, which were enough to make me watch some more instalments—but it's very easy to pose exciting questions in a pilot, which are by their very nature written to hook people. The real test will be to provide good answers at an acceptable rate (over potentially dozens of episodes), that lead to even better questions and answers. All while ensuring the characters continue to grow, so we actually care about what's happening to them.

When does it premiere? 21 September on NBC. Sky Living in the UK.