For weeks now, if not months, NBC has hyped ‘The Blacklist’ as its “event” series of the season, with recent ads proclaiming it to be, “THE show you’ve been waiting for,” among other hyperbole. This strikes me as peculiar given that those same ads have also made the show look kind of cheesy and lame. Of course, given NBC’s current state, I shouldn’t be surprised to see the network put all of its eggs into one particularly fragile basket. In any case, the series finally debuted this week. Is it better than it looked?
Marginally so. That’s not saying a lot, but the show isn’t quite as bad as the ads.
James Spader, looking pretty fat and bald these days, stars as career criminal Raymond Reddington, the so-called “Concierge of Crime” whose name sits near the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list. At the start of the ‘Pilot’ episode, he walks straight into FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and announces his presence. Despite his Wanted poster literally tacked to the wall right beside her desk, the girl at the front booth doesn’t recognize his name until she looks it up on her computer, upon which Reddington makes a show of kneeling on the floor, holding his hands behind his head, and surrendering himself to the multitude of security guards and agents who swarm down on him.
Reddington explains to Asst. Director Cooper (Harry Lennix from ‘Dollhouse’ among many other things) that he has decided to turn himself in and offer up information on a notorious terrorist named Zamani that the FBI thought was dead, but really isn’t. He claims that Zamani has snuck into D.C. with plans to kidnap a bigwig general’s young daughter. Reddington will help them catch Zamani, but only on the condition that he work exclusively with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a newbie FBI profiler about to start her first day with the Bureau.
Why would he want to work with Keen? She assumes that he believes he can manipulate a young and inexperienced agent like herself. Well, she’ll just have to show him different, won’t she? Strangely, Reddington seems to know an awful lot about Keen’s personal life, including the facts that her mother is dead and her father abandoned her when she was very young.
Wait a second, didn’t we just learn a minute earlier that Reddington’s wife is dead and that he abandoned his own young daughter right around the same time that Keen’s daddy skipped town? Huh. What a crazy coincidence that is. Oh well, that must not be important, or you’d think that genius profiler Keen might make some sort of connection between these two strangely similar things. But she doesn’t, so I guess they can’t possibly be in any way related, right?
(Psst… Did you see the way I used the word “related” there? That’s me being all clever-like.)
In trying to protect the general’s daughter, what appears to be the entirety of the FBI bureau in D.C. blithely walks (or drives, as the case may be) right into a painfully obvious trap on a bridge. Thus commences a big, violent shoot-out that looks almost exactly like a famous action scene in ‘Mission: Impossible III‘, during which the little girl is snatched right out of Elizabeth’s hands. Furious at what she believes was Reddington’s duplicity (and no doubt annoyed at her own incompetence), Keen vows to get the girl back no matter what it takes.
Reddington of course denies setting the FBI up, and demonstrates how useful he can be in finding Zamani and the girl, but he has more conditions. This time, he wants to be freed from his shackles and set up in a luxury suite in his favorite hotel. Clearly, Reddington is a fan of Sean Connery in ‘The Rock‘.
Anyway, lots more stuff happens. The plot zigs this way and zags that. Reddington escapes FBI custody and appears to be working hand-in-hand with Zamani after all, but that turns out to be a trick and he ultimately helps Elizabeth foil the terrorist’s plot to use the little girl to bomb a public zoo. (The kid’s backpack has a big flashing red countdown timer on it. Do you think we might have a little suspense over whether to cut the red wire or the white wire? Oh, how could I possibly guess that?)
By episode’s end, Reddington is back in FBI custody, and reveals that Zamani was only the first name on his “blacklist” of bad guys that he’s willing to give up, but only if he can continue to work with Keen. He also drops Keen a hint that her loving husband might have some secrets he’s keeping from her, which leads to an ever-so-shocking twist when she finds a box filled with cash and fake passports under the floorboards of her house. Oh, that sneaky devil!
At no point does the episode follow-up on the sledgehammer-to-the-head clues that Reddington might be (gasp!) Keen’s long lost father. Do the writers seriously plan to drag that obvious revelation out for a while? Come on…
Spader is in full hambone mode the whole episode, but seems to be having fun. As I said, the pilot isn’t quite as bad as I expected. Directed by Joe Carnahan of ‘Smokin’ Aces‘ and ‘The A-Team‘, it has slick production values and moves at such a breakneck pace that you barely have time to think about how ridiculous the plot is. Nevertheless, it is indeed quite ridiculous.
Will I watch again? I’ve tentatively committed to one more episode. The show could be fun, or it could be crap. It’s too hard to tell just yet. I’ll probably have to take this on a week-to-week basis.