First Time Viewing: “The Blacklist”

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During any Fall TV season, especially the last few years, there are tons of new shows that debut or return. Figuring out what to watch or not is the challenge. Figuring out what to quickly catch up on before the new season starts is something else altogether.

As it has happened, a rarity for me, I’ve found the NBC show “The Blacklist”, to a show I wish I’d started when it began, instead of dismissing it out right. It’s different because I usually start watching a show and simply end up falling behind and must play catch up during the summer months, sometimes mere weeks or days before the new season. Here, what piqued my interest was watching the free pilot I got from iTunes and finding it more intriguing than expected.

This drama series stars James Spader (upcoming “The Homesman”, “Lincoln”), Megan Boone (“Welcome to the Jungle”, “Blue Bloods”), Diego Klattenhoff (“Pacific Rim”, “After Earth”), Ryan Eggold (“The Single Moms Club”, “Beside Still Waters”), Harry Lennix (“Cru”, “Cruel Will”), and Parminder Nagra (“Psych”, “Alcatraz”).

The series was created by Jon Bokenkamp (“Taking Lives”, “Bad Seed”). The series has been hailed by critics and earlier this year was nominated for a Golden Globe award.

As I write this, it’ll seem pretty vague on details. The show’s a a serial drama and I don’t want to give anything away, on the off chance, someone else hasn’t seen this or is currently catching up on it. I dislike spoilers as much as the next person, unless, of course, I seek them out deliberately.

One thing that has worked really well for this series are the slow burning mysteries. There are a lot of players and you never know which one is up to what thing. Can they be trusted? And as the show itself shows viewers, there are several secrets and villainous people through out, ready and waiting to spoil the fun. While these methods of storytelling aren’t that original, they don’t just unfold in one instant moment and are considered done. They, like all the mysteries, take several episodes to actually come into full view. while this approach does work, because it doesn’t breeze through them, it’s more annoying than any of the mysteries that unraveled slowly on “Lost”, and that’s saying something. I’d be trying to remember one thing from two episodes ago, then another clue/hint/mystery, thing would come along and only add to the confusion. Follow that up with a full on revelation and then you’re back to receiving small bits of information. Tiresome. But still entertaining enough and this allows me the chance to forgive the writers and the show itself.

Spader. One word. It’s that simple. If you’ve seen anything, of late, that Spader’s done than you’ll probably understand. For me, it’s purely from having watched him on one season of “The Practice” and then five on “Boston Legal”. While his characters are so vastly different it’s the performance that he gives, not to mention the manner in which he uses his voice. He just has this unique sounding voice that not only works for this character, but makes him so captivating. He could probably be reading a recipe book and I’d be glued. I found that it helped bring out this evilness in his character as well as certain levels of compassion, and mystery. He’s always full of secrets. How can you not be intrigued by that?

Boone’s character, Elizabeth Keen has a personal life, and it’s pretty well explored from a human side. It’s done so not just because there are secrets running through her house, and her husband may or may not be able to be trusted, but because we’re supposed to like her and want to follow her through this. That adds to it. For me, and now when I think about it, it may be a bit unfair, but I’m reminded of the show “ALIAS”, and the character of Sydney Bristow. While Bristow may have been doing her job for seven years, it wasn’t until her world fell apart that she had this green quality to her. She was a newbie. Keen has that too, but only because she’s a newly minted FBI profiler and isn’t expecting all this chaos. So, as I watch she’s learning and making mistakes and trying. She’s growing throughout this season, which is what’s expected of characters. However, it wasn’t until the latter half of the season, the 13 episodes or so after the winter break, when she really starts to turn into this much tougher go getter, take charge person. Suddenly she’s kicking butt and not going down without a fight, even if she’s terrible at most of them. In that regard, she’s no Sydney Bristow. But, when I got to the end of the season, I loved how far she’d come. She’s no longer this novice agent, even if, technically, she is. There’s so much left for her to go through that it has me excited for what’s next.

A lot of times, like I touched on above, I did get the feeling that this show was exactly like watching “ALIAS”, but with a different cast. I’m not going to go so far as to say they’re exactly the same, but there are several instances, and types of characters, which are very similar, at the very least. Point in fact, there was a two part episode called “Anslo Garrick” that looked like the entire premise came straight from the spy thriller. More or less, this man and his team of armed men storm into a secret facility for something, or in this case, someone. Fighting takes place and there are hostages. The “ALIAS” episode titled “The Box”, involved the heroine Sydney and her father, just happening to get to work when all this occurs. And, oh look, the same happens with Boone’s character, minus the father. Both lead characters try to stop it, as do others, and things don’t go according to plan. Boone’s character, like Sydney, is discovered and taken by the bad guys. Can there be any more similarities? Also, I feel like I didn’t ruin anything as “The Blacklist” did get a full season order and is coming back for season two, so you knew she’d be okay.

The rest of the cast was there to lend the necessary hands. While the others had fewer instances of personal stories and growth, it was still refreshing and welcome. Instead of just wondering and then getting a massive amount of character backstory, which in a show like this usually comes when the overall plot needs it, this began laying the groundwork for many. Because of this approach when things happened, even in the slightest, to anyone, I was able to be shocked, worried or sorry for that character. I was also able to grow, like with Keen and Reddington, to liking them and how they operated as agents.

The little bits of action that do pop up in episodes, whether it’s small or large, is quite interesting and fun to watch. Mostly in the form of chases or gun fights, each one has been entertaining enough and pulled me in where I do get shocked if something big occurs to a character. The one on one fight scenes are pretty intense as well. Nicely filmed and choreographed. A few of them, I was surprised because of how creative they turned out to be.

The finale… was exactly as you’d expect. With the added bonus that it was the conclusion of a two parter. The series did resolve plenty from the season, but also ushered in a whole slew of new problems and mysteries, which is only expected. The finale went out with a bang and is why I’m actually intrigued enough to watch the next season. I don’t think this show is bad, but I see a whole lot of potential for growth and simply getting better. I probably, unless some major storytelling issues are resolved, won’t be eager to own the series, but as long as it’s on the air, I’ll do my damnedest to watch each episode and not fall behind. It’s certainly enjoyable enough to warrant that. If not, I wasted a few days, and several hours, on a whole first season.

Adding to the intrigue:

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