I’ll give it away right off the top: in all of the years that I’ve been reviewing TV pilots, this is by far the best one I’ve ever seen!
James Spader plays one of the FBI’s most wanted, and within the first few minutes of the show, you learn that this is not one of your average fugitives from justice. This is a man who would never be caught…unless he wanted to be caught! Although it seems that he is giving himself up, scene by scene, it becomes clear that it is he who is drawing them into his web of intrigue.
It’s not simply that Raymond Reddington (Spader) is outwitting those who pursue him, either. It’s that he is ready to work with them—for his own reasons—to bring in some of his fellow fugitives. More specifically (and mysteriously), he’s ready to work with one of them, in particular: one Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a newly-appointed FBI profiler who seemingly has never had any connection to him in the past. Yet, Reddington knows things about her that her FBI bosses do not.
The way the FBI’s Special Ops Division handles “Red” Reddington tells you that he is not a man to be taken lightly. From the moment he is taken into custody, he is held in a facility that seems to have been reserved for Hannibal Lechter. Strapped securely into a chair which is sometimes encased in a reinforced box of walls, you get the feeling that those who are watching him on a webcam in an observation room are still worried that he could escape, if that were his desire.
Keen, meanwhile, has no idea why she has been chosen by Reddington to be his only liaison. She’s a young and ambitious agent, happily married and on a path to start a family with her husband. As the story unfolds, we learn that not everything is at it seems in their happy home. By the end of the first hour, she learns that, too.
Reddington offers up his first name to the Bureau: Ranko Zamani, a fugitive long thought dead by the FBI. Zamani plans to kidnap the young daughter of a U.S. General and set in motion a plan to bomb a very public and very popular location for families in the D.C. area. Even though he gives them all the information they need to stop the kidnapping—and it seems as though they have indeed stopped it—the girl is taken anyway. Was this all a part of a plan by Red from the start? Or is everything happening this way because it has to? All of that is open to interpretation.
The way the story develops, the viewer is left with a feeling that anything can happen. This adorable young girl could conceivably die, even though convention tells you that a network TV series would not let that happen. Or would it?
Network television has been trying for a few years now to play catch up with the cable shows that are now starting to dominate with viewers. With this series, it seems network TV is starting to get it. Even under the restrictions of what can be done on network television, there can be shows that are every bit as compelling and exciting as the less restrictive and less inhibited cable series. The Blacklist straddles that fine line masterfully.
The Blacklist is competing in a fairly tough time slot on Mondays at 10pm, where CBS has another compelling and dramatic thriller, Hostages, and ABC has a solid audience with Castle. To those who prefer either or both of those shows, I can only say you should be sure to catch The Blacklist, too. It would be a shame to lose this series to viewer indifference, because this is a show that could easily become a television classic.
TV Gord’s verdict: there’s a great future for this show.