Written by Jessica Hanlon.
This fall, television has a lot to say about homeland security, with three of the year’s new hopefuls using the issue as a backdrop. Out of the lot, NBC’s The Blacklist has proven to certainly be one of the most interesting. Whilst the premise is a variation of a well-worn formula, the chemistry between the leads, as well as the captivating performance of James Spader, make this a show that has the potential to keep viewers watching for the long haul.
The Blacklist’s premise is simple; after years of dodging the Feds, one of the FBI’S most wanted criminals, Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington (James Spader), mysteriously turns himself in with the promise to help the FBI track some of the world’s most wanted criminals and terrorists he has been working with for the last twenty or so years – his so-called Blacklist. The catch? He will only speak with Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a fresh-faced recent Quantico graduate whose first day hasn’t even begun.
As a pilot, The Blacklist is a successful one. Newcomer Jon Bokenkamp, the show’s creator and writer of the pilot episode, definitely appears to have a road map for the show’s direction in mind. The pilot promises us a “case of the week” type of story delivery, with Red’s list having the potential for a wealth of villains to provide hints to his mysterious past. Likewise, the bigger – and potentially more interesting – mystery of Keen’s personal life, the way the characters are connected and especially what the mysterious nature of Red and Keen’s relationship is (although you may very well be able to guess) are all plot points bound to leave viewers intrigued and interested as the series progresses.
Perhaps the most impressive factor here is Spader. From the pilot, it is clear that he is settling in to deliver a top-notch performance for the show’s run. Whilst he may come off as contrived in the promos, Spader inhabits a role that appears to be tailor-made for the incredibly underrated three-time Emmy award winner. As brilliant as he is enigmatic, charming as he is prickly, Spader’s performance leaves little doubt that anybody (including Keifer Sutherland who was initially considered for the part) is more suited to this role.
Spader’s performance is supported by a strong cast, featuring the likes of Diego Klattenhoff (a.k.a Brody’s buddy from Homeland), veteran Harry Lennix and ER’s Parminder Nagra (who is introduced in the second episode), although they are given very little to do in the pilot. Likewise, female lead Megan Boone mostly holds her own against Spader, her slightly green and nuanced performance – especially in the beginning of the episode – serving well as a device to sell her character’s newly minted Agent status.
This is not to say the show doesn’t have a few problems. The editing and the tonal shifts of the show are frantic, sometimes distracting you from the action on the screen. Likewise, the plot advanced very quickly through the villain of the week, although I was far less interested in him than I was in the rest of story. At times, the exposition was obvious and unnecessary, especially when Keen was asked to “profile” herself. It is much more exciting to watch Keen in action than to have her tell us she is a hardcore bad-ass. Moving forward, the show needs to continue to sell us on her smarts by showing us just what she can do, rather than telling us.
All of that aside, The Blacklist certainly looks to be an interesting addition line to this fall’s lineup. Rich plot potential, intriguing storylines and Spader’s performance means there is more than enough here to keep viewers hooked. This is one premiere that should definitely be on your list this fall.
In the states, The Blacklist airs Mondays at 10pm on NBC.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10 – STICK WITH IT.