Monday, October 14, 2013

The Blacklist

Okay, I was one of those geeks who was totally intrigued by THE BLACKLIST. The premise sounded very cool – a chilling mastermind super villain is willing to help the FBI catch a list of the world’s worst evil doers in exchange for working with one specific hot FBI profiler. It’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS meets MY NAME IS EARL. James Spader is always at his best when he plays weird characters and the girl, Megan Boone, is suitably TV attractive.

I watched the pilot and liked it. There were a few bumps like what was the point of that glass cell that rolled on tracks? It looked like they were holding Jimbo in a failed game show set. And she’s an expert FBI profiler but didn’t realize her husband is Jason Bourne but with even more aliases? (Or he’s just been framed, but still, how hard would it be for an expert FBI profiler to investigate his background?)
But the show was fun and I set a season pass. Week two was somewhat disappointing. First of all, Megan changed her hair and seemed to gain a few pounds since the pilot – which would be okay if the story didn’t pick up the next day.

As is so often the case, once you get past the cool premise pilot and have to sustain the contrivance things start to fall apart. Suddenly the jumps in logic start becoming jarring. The far fetched premise alone uses up their allotment of creative license. By week two I was already going “what the fuck?” That’s generally not a good sign.

James warns the FBI that a catastrophe is about to happen and he gives the location and time. Cut to FBI agents standing on train tracks saying “I don’t see anything wrong.” And then to their utter shock, a train derails.

And then there’s the big “secret.” Why did Spader pick Boone? She can’t figure it out. No one can. Uh, let’s see. They’ve established that her father was a criminal who disappeared. She doesn’t know who he is (again, good background checking). James Spader is a master criminal. And when she specifically asked why her he said it’s because of her father. Frustrated, she walked away.

Megs, am I the only one on the planet who thinks it might be because HE IS YOUR FATHER? Even Lois Lane would figure this out. And if it turns out he’s not your father, well… then the relationship won’t be as interesting. Plus, that would allow for a romance between them and I’m sorry, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS wasn’t that creepy.

By week three the show was seriously stupid. A ridiculous convoluted plot, and whenever there are action sequences the other FBI agents have to do all the running and fighting. Some shady guy who eats apples has now bugged Megan’s house. We’re supposed to wonder whether Spader is really just playing the FBI, but you KNOW he’s really a good guy because… well, it’s network television. No one trusts anybody. Everyone has secrets. And like ALIAS and COVERT AFFAIRS, the heroine leaves for work in the morning, catches a notorious bad guy, is almost killed, and is back home in time for dinner.  Sure the work is dangerous, but the hours are great! 

I may be bailing on THE BLACKLIST soon. I’m asking the question the network apparently didn’t ask when they first heard the pitch – “What happens week four?”


McAlvie said...

*sigh* and it was such a great premise. I think the problem is that they wanted to get a young, pretty female in the lead role. That required them to come up with an excuse why someone without a lot of experience would be the handler for a criminal mastermind.

And, really, throwing in the angsty secondary story arc - is he or isn't he her father - is not only unnecessary, it's also indicative of a lot of what's wrong with tv writing these days. It's like the writers no in advance that they can't sustain the show on a weekly basis with good plot lines, so they are throwing in lots of not very clever or secretive angst, in the hopes that viewers will tune in for that. They won't. They never do. That's what dooms every action/adventure show. You know it's bad when they can't find anything else to blow up so they give their character a tortured soul. How is it that they keep making the same mistakes? Which makes me wonder if these guys actually watch any tv themselves.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I would hope that someday the Emmy Awards recognizes the work of that chair (in which the actress is seated) in the photo you posted. I swear I've seen that chair in every show or movie that involved intense interrogations. Kudos to that little mid-century artifact! Your contribution to noir and grit is unsung but not unnoticed.

I haven't watched the show, but your review reminds me of one of Roger Ebert's pet peeves -- plots that require the characters to be stupid.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Yeah, my point of dissatisfaction also hit in week 3, when she types into the computer terminal, "Yes, distract them" and leaves it sitting there when any of the bad guys walking around behind her could see it. (Why not just "y"? which could at least look accidental?) I think Spader *can't* be her father. Not just because it's too obvious but because clues planted suggest she was as old as 14 when her father disappeared. No way you wouldn't recognize him.

Sigh. THE BLACKLIST was one of only *two* shows of this fall's crop I thought might be worth sticking with. MOM isn't very good, but given Lorre's track record I have hopes it might develop.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Charles H. Bryan: Ebert would have been the first to credit the sf critic Damon Knight as the originator of "idiot plot" - the plot that requires everyone concerned to be an idiot.


Unknown said...

It's "24" with a babe upgrade. Bad guy of the week is weak though. Not bailing yet

Anonymous said...

I know the show is stupid. I don't care that the show is stupid. I would watch James Spader read the phone book (and he'd still be a better actor than anyone on this show)

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

I'm still in because of Spader, but my interest level is hanging by a thread. Yeah, week 3 was really bad.

Besides everything mentioned, there is no one in the cast besides Spader with any charisma. I strongly wish they had found a more interesting actress for the daughter/whatever she turns out to be.

Jeffro said...

I quit after the pilot. I don't know why it didn't click for me, except that it put me to sleep not even half-the-way through. Granted, it was the late night hour when I played it off my DVR. No matter, because even if I'm deprived of sleep for multiple days, if a show is good enough, I can get through it without nodding-off.

This isn't the first show that put me to sleep, and in the past it's been accurate with the show turning out to be short-lived, so I think staying awake or falling asleep is a pretty good litmus test for a show's watch-worthiness.

Anonymous said...

I've seen far too many versions of the "generic young prodigy agent / profiler / cop" who "struggles to maintain the balance between his work and his private life". It gets boring.

Then again, JAMES SPADER. That's all. I love that guy.

Jeremy said...

Just watched the third episode of The Blacklist. I'm not really sure what's going on with Elizabeth's husband, or Reddington's relationship with Elizabeth's father, or if he is her father, but I enjoy the show.

I can overlook plot holes, bumps and cheesy writing if the cast makes the show interesting, and James Spader makes it interesting. I can listen to him talk all night long. Megan Boone is pretty good, too.

Goodbyecolleen said...

The only episode I've seen is Episode 2 and I missed the pilot so a lot of the "intriguing background story" passed me by, but this was dreadful. They went to great (and expensive) lengths to set up the Bad Guy as someone whose signature MO was to cause a huge disaster, from a distance, with hundreds of casualties, in order to kill a single targetted individual. Then suddenly they're hanging around at a cocktail party waiting for this same person to come and kill his target by hand, up close and personal.

"Cut and shut" is a phrase used in the sale of second-hand-cars, where the front of one car is welded to the back of a different one. I didn’t catch the name of this episode, but “cut and shut” would fit it perfectly.

404 said...

I can see what you (and everyone else) are saying, but I'm not ready to bail yet. It's still interesting, and I'm hoping some of these errors and problems work themselves out. They've made the father relationship so obvious that I assume they don't plan on dragging it out much longer, so the real question is what will they do once she knows? That might be the make or break issue.

Mike Barer said...

I thought the first show was intriguing, however, when they cut up the husband, I figured it was time to bail.

Aaron Sheckley said...

And yet another show premiers in which the hot twenty something main character (be they male or female) has somehow, in their short career, risen to the very top of their law enforcement field. Even Jigsaw isn't clever enough to design a device that would stifle the yawn that this induces in me.

I do agree about James Spader; always very watchable. Just not enough to sustain interest in this.

Dan Ball said...

BLACKLIST is on NBC, so I figured it would automatically be awful. I don't know what standards are typically associated with programming managers, but NBC must know less than even me. It's like whoever is in charge has no sense of good storytelling or what audiences like. They just keep taking shots in the dark, and the result seems as if they're programming for a foreign country and/or non-existent demographic.

It's like they saved one of their financial execs from the chopping block to head up the programming dep't. I know charts and numbers can be misleading, but this clown must be reading them upside-down! They should give Pauly Shore a crack at turning things around with a new sitcom. Or remake WHOOPI.

Actually, the other day I read they were rebooting REMINGTON STEELE as a 30-minute comedy. Seriously, NBC should stop making reboots of single franchises and combine them instead. Just for fun, I came up with a few ideas (not that NBC's paying attention):

Mad About The Sanford Arms
Caroline in the Night Court
My Name is Whoopi
Frasier's Law
Quantum Cheers
Days of Our Matlock
seaQuest SVU
The Bionic Rockford

The list goes on...

Anonymous said...

I figured it was dead after two episodes. In episode two everything he told them was a lie so he could kill someone he disliked. As I suspected, they completely ignored this detail in episode 3, and just let him run an op as usual.

Hamid said...

I wasn't planning on making time for this anyway. I'm already watching Homeland and Masters of Sex, as well as catching up on seasons 5 and 6 of True Blood. I got bored of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D after the second episode. And I haven't even made a start yet on Hannibal and Bates Motel.

There are just far too many dramas to make the time to watch. I'm reminded of a Homer Simpson quote when he was told by Marge he should go to museums or read more: "You think I don't want to? It's those TV networks, Marge. They won't let me. One quality show after another, each one fresher and more brilliant than the last. If they only stumbled once, just gave us thirty minutes to ourselves! But they won't! They won't let me live!"

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the second and third episodes more than you did...not great, but Spader is just fun to watch. He covers up a lot of poor writing. I'm probably in it for the long haul just because of James Spader. If the show was lead by a less talented and charismatic actor I would probably bail in the next couple of episodes if the scripts don't improve.

Tim W. said...

I'm sticking with it for now. The second and third episode definitely had their weaknesses, but I'm still invested. I still want to know the answers to some of the questions, but if it gets too ridiculous I will stop caring.

cadavra said...

Spader in his wheelhouse is more than enough for me. I concede that #3 was a step down from the first two, but everyone has an off-week. I'm in for the duration.

David said...

Count me as yet another Spader fan. Nearly every other character grates, to some extent, but so far at least, I'll keep tuning in just to watch Spader make a delicious meal of the scenery.

Darth Weasel said...

I am unclear on why everyone likes Spader so much. He is almost the nail in the coffin to my watching...though admittedly it takes a short nail. Something bent and rusted will do.

His fake laugh, clipped speech that makes it look like a poorly dubbed soundtrack that is off by two beats are just more nails on the chalkboard on top of the already oft-mentioned plot holes. It has been like watching a poor man's John Lithgow circa 3rd Rock.

I grew so disinterested that in the third episode it was about halfway through before I realized I did not even know what pretext they used to Murdoch him this time.

And that is a problem in itself...when a show uses the A-team "get our guy out of the psych ward every episode and nobody realizes this is a problem" routine as inspiration...a pink slip probably should follow shortly thereafter.

I wanted to like this show. My wife loves it and we do not watch many shows together.

So in reality, this is a cry for help...please, help me understand why the fake laugh, reading his lines from a cue card and just waiting for the camera to stop Spader is considered charismatic?

nospintravel said...

On the other hand, can't we simply say boring?

Lorimartian said...

It was a bad decision to use the scene in which the female lead says "I'm not that special" in the promos because my reaction was "You are so right." Even in the promos it was obvious this actress, right now, in this role, is not even close to Spader's level. Superficial connection to the character and lines delivered with little conviction...yawn.

Tracy Tran said...

Just a note that it got a full season pickup, so get ready for some hate-watching. I'll probably go binge watch at 10PM

Anonymous said...

Spader does "smug superiority" really well, but that just wasn't enough to hold my interest, as all the other elements of the show are so weak.
The female lead is not interesting at all, nor is the supposed "twist" that everyone seems to think is coming for her character.
Most important, it was obvious after the first episode that the show's premise requires the FBI to be complete idiots, week after week, so that Spader's character can pull off his various machinations.
I bailed a few minutes into the second episode, when Spader was shown slipping his FBI surveillance by pulling a fire alarm in a restaurant and then sneaking out of the kitchen. Life is too short.

Janice said...

A Friday Question:

I really enjoy how The Office came up with a premise which allowed the characters to speak directly to the camera. That being said, I absolutely hate that Modern Family uses that effect with no explanation. In my mind, that's breaking the fourth wall - and not in a good way (i.e., Martin & Lewis in The Colgate Comedy Hour; Eddie Murphy in Trading Places). I bring this up because you mentioned a few days ago a new show you like which also has the cast speaking directly to the camera.

How are we supposed to suspend our disbelief when the characters are talking to a camera crew in their living rooms with no explanation as to why?

Mike said...

Kevin Spacey speaks to the audience in House of Cards.

Mike said...

Hey, why no spoiler alert on the plot of episodes that haven't even aired yet!

For everyone that thinks this is what's coming, I present you a plot from Boston Legal, actually maybe it was an episode of The Practice that set up the show:

Alan Shore to Denny Crane:
"You need help."
DC"No I don't."
Alan"Dad, I'm your own son and you don't remember me."
DC"---- You're not my son!"
Alan"But you had to think about it for a bit. You need help."

Donald said...

For what it's worth, my wife thinks, "What happens week four?" would be a great title should you ever write a book about writing for television.

Ron Kaplan said...

I, too, figured there was no way he could be her father because they were practically putting it out there. Too obvious.

Can't remember: do they make a point about saying how high in her Spy School class she finished? Because SOMEONE has to be last and still graduate.

Anonymous said...

"Even Lois Lane would figure this out." ? In all of Superman, only one person at the Daily Planet ever thought he might also be Clark Kent, and that was Lois Lane. She and Batman are the only people on earth who penetrated the disguise. No one talks about how Jimmy Olsen never noticed that his two best friends were the same person. Show a little respect.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving it. Every time the brilliant James Spader starts looking nice, he pushes someone into acid etc, to remind us he's really really bad.

SkippyMom said...

She's their new top profiler but oversleeps on her first day of work? And who asks for time off on her first day of work, even if it was as important as meeting with the adoption counselor? I am not too sure the FBI works that way.

My biggest problem [still in the first episode] is her character is wrriten just a *wee* bit too emotional for someone on that career track.

I suffered throw ep. 2, but will cancel it off my DVR. Even Mr. Spader can't hold my interest with such poor plot and character development. He is why I chose to watch in the first place. Obviously money well spent considering the comments.

Ray said...

I have to respectfully disagree with some of you. I love The Blacklist. It is the only new show of the season I really enjoy and find the show compelling. James Spader is a great actor and I like the rest of the cast. I don't quite get all the criticism for Megan Boone. I think she gets better each week. The Stewmaker episode a few weeks was unbelievable. I consider The Blacklist must see television and I rarely watch any network show these days. Even shows like the Big Bang Theory aren't fun for me anymore. The Blacklist has given me newfound hope in the networks. Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

Some of you may not like Blacklist and some of you do, I do like it and can't wait for Monday to sit in front of my TV and watch the show. At first I thought that James Spader looked familiar and finally it hit me, he was the young nerd professor in Stargate. He is a great actor and as for the show I will keep watching it to see if Reddington is her father or not and, I am pretty sure that Lizzy's husband is a bad guy, yes very very bad guy. But of course this is my opinion.


Anonymous said...

I noticed a Dog in the pilot? where has this dog been? Especially when the men came in to bug the apt.

Anonymous said...

After reading the hype, we decided to start watching season one on Netflix. Yeah, the plots are stupid, the FBI is always just a few steps behind the eight ball and seems to not be able to enter a house(with the entire SWAT team) and actually turn on lights instead of using those stupid flashlights.
To me, it's sooooo campy and stupid that it's fun. I'm thinking the actors have fun with it and we just use it as an "emergency" show to watch when there is nothing else on.

It's still a fun show....very predictable but fun.