The Blacklist – New NBC-TV Series

Last night was the premier of the new NBC-TV Series The Blacklist, and expectations were high – especially since this, the pilot episode, was directed by Joe Carnahan from the world of films. Carnahan directed the 2011 hit The Grey and wrote the screenplay for the still in pre-production movie, a remake of the 1974 hit, Death Wish.

So James Spader slid into a Hannibal Lecter-ish type of role. Instead of ‘a victim’s liver, fava beans and a nice Chianti’, he contented himself to merely chew up the scenery with great gusto. Spader plays Raymond Reddington, a listee on the FBI’s most wanted list. As the series begins, he comes in out of the cold, literally, as the trees are still lacking leaves in Washington DC. He turns himself in at the FBI headquarters requesting a meeting with assistant Director Harold Cooper.

What’s his plan, or why did he turn himself in? We have no idea but it seems safe to say that he does have a plan. To set things in motion he informs Cooper and associates that he will give them information about one arch criminal, a Ranko Zamani.

The FBI is not impressed as they believe that Zamani’s been dead for six years. Reddington says, “Not so. Otherwise a dead man just walked off a flight from Munich to Dulles.”

A quick scan of the video of the immigration area at the airport show a man who looked remarkably like Zamani passing through immigration. A finger print was lifted from the armrest on the plane, and to the surprise of no one, except the FBI, Reddington was right.

Of course, the FBI doesn’t really connect the dots. For Reddington to know all this, he must have been working with Zamani. Of course, and to clarify,  he immediately states this. Any way, he then reveals why he’s come in – to help the FBI capture some criminals, so powerful, and so secret, that the FBI doesn’t even know they exist. So sayeth Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington.

He has one condition. Starting now … he will only talk with one Elizabeth Keen, a recent Quantico graduate, and a transfer down from the NYC FBI HQ. She is beginning that very day as a FBI profiler.

Keen is played by Megan Boone, and while she’s no Jodie Foster, it looks like Keen and Reddington are going to become a pair just like Clarice and Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Okay there’s your set up. Apparently, per Keen, she has no relationship with Reddington. The show gives off strong vibes that he knows plenty about her, including stuff from her childhood, and the scar on her wrist, and that she grew up in Baltimore. Another key is fact that her father abandoned her family when she was a child. So the obvious connection is that he is her father. But the show doesn’t do anything more than gives us the raw data. The thought that they are connected as family is my own.

The show has some very cool thrills in the action sequences, and some nice character twists, including Keen’s inner steel and fortitude, as well as her ability to stand up to anyone either by words or deeds.

The writing is effective if not standout and we hear such key terms as black site, and high-value detainees. The production for the pilot took us out onto the streets of the District of Columbia, with exteriors of the Capitol and Walter Reed Hospital, and we even followed a long as Zamani and Reddington walked and talked on the Lincoln Memorial Mall.

But aside from Keen and Reddington, plus, to a lesser degree, the FBI honcho Harold Cooper, and his right hand Donald Ressler, everyone one else was a cookie-cutter lightweight. Even the villain-du jour, Zamani was your typical, garden variety evil Serbian.

The show looks like it will be serving up a new villain from Reddington’s Black List each week. Which isn’t all bad. But the implication is that he will be in control at all times, and will require a lot of high maintenance like top of the line hotels to be changed every two nights, as well as other expensive perks. The high maintenance is that he will have to have the look and feel of a free man in order to set up meetings with the criminals he is going to betray. And that’s not all bad either as it is unlikely that they all will be coming to Washington DC. So maybe we will get some overseas locations as an added bonus.

Keen is going to make or break the show, as her character must have many skills, many layers, and a seriously good mind while Spader’s Reddington, as good as he is, is likely to be a one-trick pony and that would be that he is always the smartest guy in the room. I liked the hook that the show offered, and it’s opening sequence, as well as the action sequence on a bridge were very well done. NBC has spent a lot of bucks to promote the show, so I am going to stay with it for a while. But still, I wonder if its foundation is strong enough to sustain this as a weekly series. It seems that Reddington will have to plot evil with some fellows from his black list, while simultaneously feeding Keen enough info to keep the FBI involved so that they can capture, arrest, or kill. And this could become old quickly. Maybe the way out is story arcs that run for a few weeks rather than a new villain introduced each week.

What were your thoughts?

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