High-paced action, little realism

Dave Bartlett
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‘The Blacklist’ worth a watch, but don’t expect brilliance

After filing last week’s column on “Sleepy Hollow” I did a search to find out what other TV writers thought of the show.

Most were far more forgiving of it than I. The most common word used to describe the show was “fun.”

I stand by my assessment, but I will use fun to describe “The Blacklist,” (Global/NBC Monday’s 8:30 island time) the new anti-terrorist drama starring veteran actor James Spader.

Spader has had a long a varied career from his recent stint on “The Office” and shows like “Boston Legal” to 1980s films such as “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Less Than Zero” and “Pretty in Pink.”

His character here is a criminal mastermind, who’s equally — and laughably — charming and cold-blooded. He adds that camp value that I found lacking in “Sleepy Hollow.”

There are large holes in the plot, but “The Blacklist” is action-filled and has a few interesting story twists. The pilot was surprisingly graphic and gory for network TV, but that seems to have been toned down a bit in the subsequent two episodes.

The show opens with Spader sitting calmly outside FBI headquarters when a man comes up, welcomes him home and hands him a briefcase.

He then walks into the building, gives his name, Raymond (Red) Reddington, and then — as an alarm goes off and the building goes into lockdown — he casually drops to his knees and puts his hand behind his head a smile on his lips. The camera then pans out to his most-wanted poster.

Red’s been on the run for decades, and has been linked to a variety of terrorist groups. He tells the FBI he wants to help them catch the worst of the worst, including active terrorists who have flown under the radar of the American intelligence network. He has a list.

His one condition, besides immunity from prosecution, is that he will only work with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

Cut to a young woman late for her first day on the job as an FBI profiler. She discusses adopting a child with her husband, and promises him her job won’t get in the way of them starting a family — which anyone who works in a job like law enforcement knows is complete baloney.

Boone is a good lead actress, a new face to me, and keeps up with Spader. While he is smarmy, charismatic and wry, she is sympathetic, levelheaded and serious without overdoing it. Spader is clearly the star.

The writers dance around the reason Red will only work with her from the opening and have yet to reveal for certain why.

But if Red isn’t her father it’s only because the writers have tried too hard to twist something that would otherwise be too obvious. Keeping it a secret this long is both lazy and lame. At the end of Episode 3, he admits it’s “because of her father,” in a vague way.

I hope the show resolves this matter and moves on quickly or it will lose me as a regular viewer. Not to mention it is by far less interesting than the question mark which hangs over the head of Elizabeth’s husband Tom.

Tom seems to be a teacher, or at least someone who works with kids, in the early goings, but after he is tortured in front of Liz and is hospitalized part-way through the first episode, she finds money, passports and a gun under the floorboards of their home in a mysterious box.

Again, the show borrows from a number of other shows. But what “The Blacklist” lacks in originality it makes up for with its fast pace and goofy one-liners.  

The weekly cases are all over-the-top, action-hero scenarios, but are entertaining.

The realism factor is at a bare minimum, including that Red is allowed to live in the community so he can access his underworld contacts, and avoid suspicion that he is now working to undermine their schemes.

But this, of course, is to allow the character to ooze his criminal charisma, while living the lifestyle of a rock star on the tax-payer’s dime. He’s always immaculately dressed, well fed and condescendingly grinning.

The show gets a 7/10 from me, and is a great way to kill an hour. It’s already been approved for a full season of episodes.

But once again, I am at odds with many critics. The ones that liked “Sleepy Hollow” really hated “The Blacklist.”

Strangely enough, two good friends recommended “The Blacklist,” including one who tends to avoid anything not on cable.

It goes to show that, like all forms of art and entertainment, it’s all about personal preference.

Send your list of enemies or other comments to Dave Bartlett at talkingtelevision@gmail.com.

Organizations: FBI, NBC

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